Daily Current Affairs
08 December 2021

    1. A robust friendship: India and Russia have to navigate a complex geopolitical landscape while deepening ties
      • Source - The Hindu - Page 6/Editorial - A robust friendship
      • GS 2: IR
      • News: Russian President Vladimir Putin has concluded a short summit meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi in New Delhi.
      • Significance of the visit:
        • Indicates India's importance for Putin: It is Putin's only 2nd visit post COVID
        • It is held despite various existing challenges:
          • The US Factor: It follows years of growing proximity between New Delhi and Washington, a potential irritant to Moscow. The Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act(CAATSA) of the US prevents deepening of ties with Russia.
          • The China factor has been steadily pulling the India-Russia bilateral tango in all the wrong directions.
        • Reaffirming strategic Importance: Notwithstanding these reasons for possible strategic dissonance, India and Russia reaffirmed the strength of their abiding deep, multi-decade ties, building further confidence in each other through substantive defence agreements.
      • The Progress in Relationship over the years:
        • Declaration on the India-Russia Strategic Partnership” in October 2000 -
          • Made Russia, India’s closest friends and allies.
          • It unlocked new opportunities in strategic, science and technology, space, energy, nuclear ties, trade and commerce, culture and a people-to-people connect.
        • An institutionalised dialogue mechanism involving key stakeholders at the political and official levels - adopted for smooth functioning of relation.
        • “Special and Privileged Strategic Partnership”: Mr. Putin’s visit to India in December 2010 heralded a new chapter in India-Russia relations when the Strategic Partnership was elevated to the level of a “Special and Privileged Strategic Partnership”.
      • The Agreements: Defence, trade and investment, energy, and science & technology are a part of the agenda
        • The inaugural ‘2+2’ dialogue between the Foreign and Defence Ministers of the two countries promises to provide new vitality to the special and privileged strategic partnership.
        • 28 New agreements/MoUs:  In the last 20 summits, about 230 agreements of different kinds were signed between the two countries. This summit has added 28 more MOUs/agreements. This time, however, there are also many MOUs beyond the government sector.
        • A new trade target of $30 billion by 2025 was also mentioned.
        • 10-year military-technical plan that includes technology transfer to India.
        • 600,000 Kalashnikov assault rifles: Trade received a fillip through an agreement for India to produce more than 600,000 AK-203 assault rifles, which are being produced in Amethi.
        • S-400: For India’s part, despite resistance from Washington through its Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, New Delhi will proceed with purchasing the S-400 missile defence system from Moscow.
      • The Multi-dimensional challenges:
        • Economic rout due to the pandemic: The pandemic has periodically crippled the growth of both economies and the threats to public health remain despite considerable progress with vaccinations.
        • Russia-U.S. ties are showing signs of fraying yet again, this time over U.S. President Joe Biden’s intention, reportedly, to warn Mr. Putin that Russia will face “economy-jarring sanctions” if it seeks to occupy Ukraine, a fear that has grown in the U.S. as Russian troops massed near the Ukraine border.
        1. Russia-China relations:  Russia relies on cordial ties with China to stabilise its interests in an unstable Afghanistan post the U.S.’s exit, New Delhi and Beijing have scarcely seen eye-to-eye on border tensions and geo-political rivalry across the Asia region. India and China also have forged an uneasy truce across their Himalayan border in the aftermath of the Galwan valley exchange in 2020.
        2. Bilateral trade is stuck around $10 billion for many years. The problem areas are well-known these include lack of information, visa problems and logistic issues etc. In recent years, attempts have been made to address some of these issues.
        3. B2B Partnership missing: India-Russia partnerships have not percolated to private sectors.
        4. Pakistan Angle: Increased engagement with Pakistan worries India.
          • Joint exercise by Russia in Pak barely a week after the Uri Attacks
          • Four Mi-35 Helicopters supplied to Pakistan.
        5. Similarly a provocative joint India-Ukraine military exercise near Crimea.
        6. Diversification/Reduction of dependency on Russia: India has a huge dependency for spare parts on Russia; Diversification of defence acquisitions will be necessarily an extended process.
      1. The Depth of relations
        1. The Defence Cooperation:
          • Russia is the key and principal supplier of arms and armaments to the Indian armed forces accounting for over 60% of weapons. Over past 10 years Russia provided 70% of India's defence imports; US was 2nd with only 14% of the share
          • India too  is Russia's 2nd most important defence partner.
          • It comprises the whole gamut covering the Indian Army, Indian Air Force and Indian Navy.
          • India recently inducted the S-400 Triumf missile systems. Sukhoi Su-30 fighter aircraft, T-90 tanks, and the Talwar and the Krivak class stealth frigates are key weapons in the armoury of the Indian armed forces.
        2. Areas of military-technical collaboration:
          • The BrahMos missile system was a successful collaboration of joint research, development, and production.
          • Science and technology, nuclear, energy, space have been key driving forces. But changes in interests and capabilities being fuelled by geopolitical differences are widening the divergence between India and Russia.
        3. Bilateral trade has seen the two countries progressing from defence and energy to IT, pharmaceuticals, agro-industries, mineral and metallurgy, fertilizers, and infrastructure projects. India-Russia trade was valued at the U.S.$10.11 billion in 2019–20, but is not a true reflection of the potential that can be harnessed.
        4. Nuclear partnership: Joint declaration for Unit 2 in Kudankulam done & the "pouring of concrete"(starting construction) for Unit 3 &4. Agreements for Units 5 & 6 in Kudankulam are finalized['17] & six more units are in the pipeline.
        5. Energy Cooperation: Indian companies have invested about $5.5bn in Russian oil & gas industry.  An another consortium led by Russian oil major Rosneft, of 98% of Essar Oil & its Vadinar port in cash deal worth $13bn.
        6. Investment in Infrastructure: Joint fund of $1bn equally shared by Russian Sovreign fund RDIF & our National infrastructure investment fund(NIIF) to promote infrastructure & energy projects[see pib economy for NIIF]
        7. Agreement for  Information & security cooperation: benefits from globally acknowledged Russian cyber technologies.
        8. Other avenues for  Cooperation
          • Connectivity: International North South Transport Corridor(INSTC)
          • Terrorism: joint statement declares: "zero tolerance for direct/indirect support of terrorism"; It stressed "to deny save havens to terrorists. In Afghanistan too, it calls for eliminating "terror sanctuaries, safe havens & other forms of support to terrorists.
          1. Support for Permanent membership in UN.
      1. Conclusion:
        • "An Old friend is better than (two) new ones" - Modi during his 2016 visit
        • India has so far held firm to its mantra of ‘strategic autonomy’ in a multipolar world, but South Block will have to work hard to manage the tightrope act between Moscow and Washington.
        • Moscow has adroitly managed to remain friends with both its mega-neighbours, but it will require a robust focus on confidence-boosting cooperative initiatives if India and Russia are to safely navigate the complex geopolitical landscape that they occupy.

 

    1. Mediation Bill: Not getting the Act together; While it contains many pluses, the Bill needs improvement in some crucial places
      • Source - The Hindu - Page 7/OPED - Mediation bill
      • GS 2: Health
      • News: The Draft Mediation Bill 2021, slated for presentation now to Parliament.
      • About Mediation:
        • It is a kind of Alternative dispute resolution mechanism.
        • Mediation is an attempt to help parties in a disagreement to hear one another, to minimise the harm that can come from disagreement and is a completely informal type of ADR mechanism.
        • Role of a Mediator:
          • A Mediator’s role is both facilitative and evaluative.
          • A mediator facilitates an agreement when it manages the interaction between the parties, encourages and promotes communication between them and manages interruptions and outbursts by them and motivates them to arrive at an amicable settlement.
      • About ADR Mechanisms:
        • Alternative Dispute resolution(ADR) involves methods such as arbitration, mediation, conciliation, negotiation, facilitation and avoidance.
        • Arbitration: When any prior agreement exists between parties, a neutral arbiter decides on the dispute without formal litigation. This is allowed to happen when both parties agree to file for arbitration.
        • Mediation v/s conciliation:
          • Conciliation is less formal form of arbitration(called Mediation in US). It do not require an existence of any prior agreement. Any party can request the other party to appoint a conciliator.
            • One conciliator is preferred but two or three are also allowed. In case of multiple conciliators, all must act jointly.
            • If a party rejects an offer to conciliate, there can be no conciliation.
            • When it appears to the conciliator that elements of settlement exist, he may draw up the terms of settlement and send it to the parties for their acceptance. If both the parties sign the settlement document, it shall be final and binding on both.
          • Mediation, however, is often confused with arbitration as there is very little difference. The draft Mediation bill 2021 chooses the term 'mediation' over 'conciliation'.
      • Mediation landscape in India:
        • Over the last 15 years, the dispute resolution landscape in India has undergone significant change with the advent of mediation.
        • Since adversarial litigation and arbitration were the norm, establishing mediation was a challenge. It was even more challenging to ensure that they got on reasonably well with inventive ways like arbitration-cum-mediation and vice versa.
        • Requirement of a legislative regulation:
          • There was no comprehensive statute providing for all dimensions of the mediation process and its practice.
          • Such a need was articulated in several quarters, notwithstanding doubters and dissenters who insist that regulation will kill the free spirit that mediation embodies. A group of senior mediators was set up by the Supreme Court Committee in charge of court-annexed mediation process, and over a period of several months.
      • The Draft Mediation Bill 2021:
        • The good:
          • It recognises that mediation has come of age and needs to be treated as a profession, which is a huge improvement over the part-time honorarium basis it has in the court-annexed mediation schemes.
          • It acknowledges the importance of institutes to train mediators, and service providers to provide structured mediation under their rules.
          • Provides for pre-litigation mediation: This is quite a remarkable step, but is designed to be easy to implement. Parties are required to have at least one substantive session with the mediator where the process is explained to them. Thereafter they are free to continue or terminate the mediation and follow the litigation path if they so decide.
          • Addresses interim relief issue: Further, if any urgent interim order is needed, they can bypass mediation at the first stage and return to it after resolving the interim relief issue.
          • Standardization of terminology: It does away with the confusion emanating from using both expressions “mediation” and “conciliation” in different statutes by opting for the former in accordance with international practice, and defining it widely to include the latter.
          • Recognises online dispute resolution: a process that is going to move mediation from the wings to centre stage in a world that COVID-19 has changed.
          • Provides for enforcement of commercial settlements reached in international mediation viz between parties from different countries as per the Singapore Convention on Mediation to which India was a notable signatory.
            • The Convention assures disputants that their mediation settlements will be enforced without much difficulty across the world, unlike the fresh headaches that the litigative decree or arbitration award present at the time of enforcement.
          • India a hub for international mediation: It is expected that this Bill would make India a hub for international mediation in the commercial disputes field, and indeed institutions are being opened for this purpose.
        • The bad:
          • Distinguishes between Indian and International settlements: It unwisely treats international mediation when conducted in India as a domestic mediation. The settlement under the latter is given the status of a judgment or decree of a court.
            • This distinction is disastrous for foreign parties: Now, that is excellent for cases between Indian parties, but disastrous when one party is foreign. The reason is that the Singapore Convention does not apply to settlements which already have the status of a judgment or decree. Ergo, if you conduct your cross-border mediation in India, you lose out on the tremendous benefits of worldwide enforceability. In sum, go to Singapore or Sri Lanka or anywhere else other than India to conduct your mediation.
          • The governing mechanism - the Council:
            • It has three members:
              • a retired senior judge,
              • a person with experience of Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) law and
              • an academic who has taught ADR.
            • Functions: This is an all-powerful body which regulates, certifies, accredits, plans, governs, etc..
            • None of the members will be active practitioners. Certainly this Bill will be unique where a profession is being regulated without a single professional on the regulator. Try doing that to lawyers, doctors and accountants.
          • No role for CJI in appointment process: This is the field of dispute resolution, the judiciary’s domain, so how come the Chief Justice of India is not in the picture for making appointments?
          • Negative list for mediation: There is a long list of disputes which should not be mediated.
            • Some of them look understandable at first sight but unnecessary at second.
              • Fraud, for example. It is standard practice in litigation to make as many and as serious charges as possible; that doesn’t prevent parties from settling, and these accusations are disposed of by retraction or apology or simply ignored.
              • In cases involving minors or persons of unsound mind, the law provides for the court to pass orders to protect them.
            • What is necessary in such cases: is to provide that any settlement of disputes involving them needs the court’s approval, not to deny the possibility of a beneficial mediated settlement.
            • However some types of cases in the list not understandable:
              • Patents and copyright cases settle on commercial terms leaving untouched the validity of the grant, so why deny this possibility and consign the parties to litigative longevity.
              • In the case of telecom, why can’t manufacturers and service providers and consumers be allowed to talk and resolve issues.
          • Stakeholder consultation: The  did call for comments on the draft Bill. But, what is missing is the element of focused and engaged discussion after comments are sent. It is as though a wall has been erected and no one knows what is going to emerge.
      • Conclusion: In order to place India prominently in the world’s mediation landscape, a wider level of discussion and consideration amongst all stakeholders, should be done. 

 

    1. Initiatives to check stubble burning require a robust monitoring mechanism
      • Source - The IE - Page 13/The Ideas Page - Track the fire
      • GS 3: Environment Pollution
      • News: Farmers resort to the practice due to the limited time they have between the harvesting of Kharif paddy & sowing o the Rabi wheat. They find burning the stubble left in the field to be a cost-effective & quick way to resolve the issue.
        • The Chief Justice of India N.V. Ramana recently asked , why does pollution continue to smother Delhi despite orders from the Supreme Court, action from Government and lawyers arguing so much. The court gave the Government 24 hours to find a way or make way for the Supreme Court to act.
      • Government's efforts in this regard so far:
        • Ban on Stubble burning: In 2015, the National Green Tribunal banned stubble burning in Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Delhi, Haryana, and Punjab. However, due to inadequate political will, the enforcement of the ban was weak.
        • Criminal offence: Stubble burning was considered an offense under Section 188 of the Indian Penal Code and in the Air and Pollution Control Act, 1981. However, it has now been decriminalized as per a recent government announcement.
        • Government schemes:
          • In-Situ Management: The Central Scheme on Promotion of Agricultural Mechanization for In-Situ Management of Crop Residue was introduced in 2018-19.
          • Production of biomass: The Ministry of Power has pitched in this effort by making biomass pellets mandatory in some coal-fired thermal power plants that would utilize the agricultural waste usually burnt by farmers.
        • Graded Response Action Plan (GRAP) was notified in January 2017 based on SC order, for prevention, control and abatement of air pollution in Delhi and NCR.
          • Environmental Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority (EPCA) enforces GRAP, which is formed under Environment Protection Act, 1986.
          • It identifies graded measures and implementing agencies for response to four AQI categories, namely, Moderate to Poor, Very Poor, Severe and Severe + or Emergency.
        • Shifting of Polluting industries: Manufacturing units operating in old industrial areas will be encouraged to shut down and switch to the service sector.  This move would also provide opportunities to hi-tech and service industries, which have been moving to other regions of the NCR, to set up offices in new industrial areas in the Capital.
        • Changes in Vehicular fuel
          • SC approval to bring 10,000 buses on the streets of Delhi by the end of next year. But the non-availability of land and the conditions of warranty of Buses in the Tender, scares the companies away.
          • Use of BS-VI fuel.
          • Delhi is scheduled to run hydrogen-CNG (H-CNG) fuelled buses to curb emission.
      • Limitations of the efforts:
        • Slow decline in residue burning: The number of crop residue burning events declined from 2016 to 2019. However he pace of decline has, been slow.  2020 saw a sharp increase in stubble burning, especially in Punjab and Madhya Pradesh. It is thus evident that despite various government initiatives, substantial stubble burning continues in several states.
        • Failure of Government schemes: Several reports suggest low utilization as farmers perceive the purchase or rent of such machinery to be an additional expense.
        • A recent study found that farmers prefer ex-situ management of crop residue through equipment such as balers as opposed to in-situ machinery.
      • Solutions for Air Pollution from Beijing
        1. For Farmers:
          • To ease farmers' financial burden, the government should consider subsidizing operational costs along with providing farmers with a capital subsidy on such equipment.
          • Ex-situ management of crop residue can also be explored for biomass power generation and supplementary feedstock in coal-fired power plants.
          • Awareness generation and trust-building exercises should be undertaken with the support of local civil society organizations.
          • A targeted and cluster-based approach can be undertaken by identifying districts with a higher number of stubble-burning incidents.
          • Beneficiary farmers who continue to burn stubble despite availing scheme benefits can be warned about the potential exclusion from the schemes and agricultural credit subsidies.
        2. Other Innovative techniques that can be used:
          1. Biochar: Charcoal is used as soil amendment. Made from biomass via pyrolysis.
          2. Use of H-CNG: H-CNG is a blend of hydrogen and CNG, the ideal hydrogen concentration being 18%. Compared to conventional CNG, use of H-CNG can reduce emission of carbon monoxide up to 70%, besides enabling up to 5% savings in fuel.
        3. High-Level Committee (HLC) Report: formed on the SC orders in its report gave recommendations on how to control air pollution levels in the NCR. Technological solutions to fight air pollution are:
          • LiDAR technology may be adopted for vertical monitoring at a few places to track transport of pollutants at higher altitude.
          • Wireless Sensor Networks (WSN) technology may be used as an indicative monitoring tool for a few activities like mining, large construction sites, to supplement air quality data and report to regulator for conducting further investigation.
          • Adoption of oxy furnaces in industries: They use only oxygen as fuel instead of atmospheric air (which contains nitrogen), thus reducing the production of NOx by about 90% in industries.
          • Photocatalytic paints to be used on roads: These paints contain titanium dioxide (TiO2) which has a good oxidising potential and can remove pollutants such as volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and nitrogen oxides from the atmosphere in the presence of sunlight & UV rays.
          • Use of anti-smog guns: It sprays nebulized water droplets into the air through high pressure propellers which help particles to settle down.
          • A pilot project to set up 'smog towers' as high as 20 feet: They are designed as large-scale air purifiers to reduce pollution particles from the atmosphere.
        4. Action Plan for Cleaner Industry: NITI Aayog along with CII launched the joint initiative “Clean Air, Better Life” in 2016 with an objective to address the issue of air pollution in Delhi.
        5. New model of network operation and quality control to provide early warning to effectively reduce the level of pollution under adverse weather conditions.
          • In case of forecasted heavy pollution, warnings are issued at least 24 hours in advance through the media, in addition to daily air quality reports and forecasts.
          • It combines high-resolution satellite remote sensing and laser radar, an integrated network combining ‘air-land’ data for quality monitoring with greater analytical capacity and over 1,000 PM2.5 sensors throughout the city to accurately identify high-emission areas and periods.
        6. Approach to urbanisation: ‘Smart cities’ such as New York, London and Beijing provide more space for public transport and mixed land use spatial planning minimising travel.
          • Beijing already has more than 550 km of metro, more than one-and-half times that of the Delhi Metro; the plans are to have 1,000 km of metro rail.
          • The bus transport system has 30,000 low floor buses, more than eight times the number with the Delhi Transport Corporation.
          • In China, 72% of travel is completed by public transport compared with 37% in Japan, 17% in Europe and 10% in the U.S.
        7. Vehicle policy: Particulate matter is the most difficult to control, is largely caused by vehicle emissions. In Beijing, it has found that local emissions constituted two-thirds of this, of which vehicle emissions were nearly half the main source.
          • Policy focus gradually changed from gasoline vehicle emissions to heavy-duty diesel vehicle emissions.
          • Phasing out older vehicles made the most significant contribution.
          • Beijing plans to have 48 lakh charging points by 2022 to push the use of electric vehicles.
          •  Delhi has nearly two times the number of registered vehicles than Beijing, increasing at a faster pace and source apportionment is still being debated.
        8. Innovative implementation steps were instituted in Beijing.
          • Controlling both the concentration and total emission amount leading to transforming and upgrading the industrial structure production processes and equipment.
          • Economic incentives tailored to the specific problem, with attractive levels of subsidies to high-polluting enterprises to close their production and differentiated fees charged according to the concentration of waste gas emissions for those who chose to remain in production.
          • Enforcement at the municipal and State levels is coordinated, with each level having different responsibilities and a mechanism for cooperation.
          • Municipal environmental enforcement teams do specific inspections and hotspot grid supervision based on a detailed emission inventory for each source, passing on serious cases to the State level.
        9. Independent evaluations review the air quality management system, conduct quantitative assessments of the pollution reduction effects in selected areas, analyse new challenges, and provide recommendations for enabling further improvement in air quality and building public support.
      • Conclusion: The need of the hour is for formulating a robust monitoring system at the local level to track the progress of different activities under the schemes along with ascertaining the number and intensity of crop residue burning incidents.