13th EU India Summit
Evolution of India EU relationship
- India-EU relations date to the early 1960s, with India being amongst the first countries to establish diplomatic relations with the European Economic Community.
- A cooperation agreement signed in 1994 took the bilateral relationship beyond trade and economic cooperation.
- At the 5th India-EU Summit held at The Hague in 2004, the relationship was upgraded to a ‘Strategic Partnership’.
- The two sides adopted a Joint Action Plan in 2005 (which was reviewed in 2008) that provided for strengthening dialogue and consultation mechanisms in the political and economic spheres, enhancing trade and investment, and bringing peoples and cultures together.
- The first India-EU Summit took place in Lisbon in 28 June 2000 and marked a watershed in the evolution of the relationship.
- Since then, twelve annual Summits have been held, the last one in New Delhi on 10 February 2012. The 12th Summit was the first Summit to be held in India after the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty. The two sides reviewed bilateral relations as well as exchanged views on regional and global issues.
- The 13th Summit could not be held in 2013. India and the EU also interact regularly at the Foreign Minister level.
India EU trade
- The EU as a bloc of 28 countries is India’s largest regional trading partner while India was the EU’s 9th largest trading partner in 2014.
- Our bilateral trade in goods in 2014 was €72.52 billion as compared to €72.66 billion in 2013
- Indian exports to the EU amounted to €37.07 billion during 2014 while India’s imports from EU in 2014 stood at €35.45 billion
- The trade balance in goods which turned in India’s favour in 2013, continued to remain in India’s favour by €1.62 billion in 2014
- India-EU bilateral trade in services was €23.7 billion in 2013 with trade being in favour of India
- The EU is one of the largest sources of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) for India.
- The most important EU countries for FDI inflows into India in 2013 were the Germany, UK, Italy, Sweden and Belgium.
- India and the EU are in the process of negotiating a bilateral Broad-based Trade and Investment Agreement (BTIA) since 2007 which will significantly enhance the commercial relationship once implemented.
Bilateral Trade and Investment Agreement
- On 28th June 2007, India and the EU began negotiations on a broad-based (BTIA) in Brussels, Belgium.
- India and the EU expect to promote bilateral trade by removing barriers to trade in goods and services and investment across all sectors of the economy.
- Both parties believe that a comprehensive and ambitious agreement that is consistent with WTO rules and principles would open new markets and would expand opportunities for Indian and EU businesses.
- The negotiations cover
- Trade in Goods,
- Trade in Services,
- Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures,
- Technical Barriers to Trade,
- Trade Remedies,
- Rules of Origin,
- Customs and Trade Facilitation,
- Trade Defence,
- Government Procurement,
- Dispute Settlement,
- Intellectual Property Rights & Geographical Indications,
- Sustainable Development.
- So far, 15 rounds of negotiations have been held alternately at Brussels and New Delhi. The last meeting was held in the week of 13th May, 2013 in New Delhi.
- The contours of the discussions had recently been widened by the EU to involve investments, not just trade in goods and services, converting a free trade agreement into a broader scope trade and investment agreement.
- Obtaining greater access to the market for services in the European Union (EU) is key for the progress of the Broadbased Trade and Investment Agreement (BTIA) between the EU and India
When and Where
- Brussels on March 30.
Benefits for India
- In a global economic climate of falling demand and competitive currency devaluations a free trade agreement with the EU would be beneficial
- The textile industry was among those that would be benefitted
- India would also take up the issue of market access for its services in the EU.
- India has not been granted “data secure” status by the EU, and this has hampered the progress of negotiations around the liberalisation of trade in services in the BTIA talks. Being considered ‘data secure’ is crucial for a number of services especially in the IT and ITES sectors.
MEA mulls evacuation of Indians in Libya
- Days after the death of a Kerala nurse and her child in western Libya, a senior Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) official told that at least 1,800 Indians are still in the country and may need to be rescued through an emergency evacuation soon.
- Discussions about an emergency plan were prompted by the March 4 attack in Yemen which left one Indian nun killed and a priest missing and the March 25 mortar attack in Libya which killed the nurse and her child.
- Despite several rounds of negotiations with their suspected IS captors, the government has been unable to track down two professors from Sirte University kidnapped in August 2015.
- Evacuation from Libya will be challenging especially since the Indian embassy in Tripoli has been relocated and has been operating out of the Tunisian resort city of Djerba, with a skeleton staff.
- To add to the crisis, the airspace over Tripoli was closed on Tuesday. In 2011, India had managed to evacuate 15,000 nationals flying dozens of Air India flights and sending a naval warship to rescue them. In April 2015, India carried out “Operation Raahat” to evacuate 5,000 citizens and foreigners from Yemen. Diplomats told The Hindu that a similar plan may be used in Libya.
- Adding to the pressure, Libya appears to be headed for a major battle between three different contesting governments and the Islamic State fighters. The rival governments of Tobruk and Tripoli had been fighting for months. But now the situation is more violent as a third front backed by the U.N. — National Unity government, has been formed which has threatened to break into Tripoli, creating a bigger showdown
Robots used to recreate threatened monuments
- Cultural organisations have been working to create precise three-dimensional digital models of the threatened heritage monuments in Palmyra, Syria, in case the originals are damaged beyond repair.
- Near the marble quarries of Carrara, Italy, robots are using the models to carve a 20-foot-high scale reproduction of one of Palmyra’s most famous ancient monuments: a Roman triumphal arch that Islamic State militants razed last year.
- When finished next month, the 12-ton replica is to be temporarily installed at Trafalgar Square in London, with plans to bring it to New York later in the year.
- It was important to send a “powerful message” to those intent on destroying world heritage sites.
- Every time we resurrect from the rubble one of these monuments, it undercuts the message of fear and ignorance that these people are trying to spread
- The Romans built the original triumphal arch in the second century to celebrate a victory over the Persians.
- The reproduction was created from a 3D computer model generated from dozens of photographs of the arch taken by archaeologists, tourists and other visitors to Palmyra before the Islamic State captured the city
‘Capacity crisis in Indian Air Force’- U.S. expert
- A report by Ashley Tellis, Senior Associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
- Named – “Troubles, they come in Battalions: The Manifest Travails of the Indian Air Force,”
What does it say
- The report is a sharp analysis of the current state of the IAF’s preparedness to face down threats from potentially troublesome neighbours. It finds the country’s aerial fighting force to be inadequate on a number of parameters.
- There is threat to India’s air superiority over its rapidly modernising rivals, China and Pakistan. This is due to Indian Air Force’s (IAF)
- falling end strength
- problematic force structure,
- troubled acquisition and development program[me]s
- Air dominance is vital for India if it is to have deterrence stability in southern Asia and for preserving the strategic balance in the wider Indo-Pacific region.
Some parameters include
- Fighter force – The IAF’s force is weaker than the numbers suggest, and at nominally 36.5 squadrons, it is well short of its sanctioned strength, and many of its frontline aircraft are obsolete.
- China and Pakistan have apparently fielded close to 750 advanced air defence or multi-role fighters against the IAF’s 450-odd equivalent. By 2025, China may well be in a position to deploy anywhere between 300 and 400 sophisticated aircraft against India. Pakistan may be able to deploy 100 to 200 advanced fighters.
- With India facing this regional threat matrix IAF’s desires for 42–45 squadrons by 2027, which is the equivalent of around 750–800 aircraft, is “compelling”, yet the likelihood of reaching this goal is “poor”.
- The main barrier to embarking on a successful acquisition and modernisation drive is the fact that the IAF is stymied by serious constraints on
- India’s defence budget,
- the impediments imposed by the acquisition process,
- the meagre achievements of the country’s domestic development organisations,
- the weaknesses of the higher defence management system, and
- India’s inability to reconcile the need for self-sufficiency in defence production with the necessity of maintaining technological superiority over rivals.
- Earlier this month, a rare offer to produce F-16 fighters on Indian soil may be coming from Lockheed Martin. If the IAF chooses to avoid this approach, it may have to continue relying on the Sukhoi and MiG platforms and the expected incoming 36 Rafale aircraft, and then cover any shortfall in capability with the indigenous Tejas.
- This approach may make sense from a cost perspective in that India could save money for a probable future purchase of the F-35. However, it may also slow India’s progress in building up its security posture in the manner envisioned by the Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) tender, under which another 90 advanced fighters are still required.
- Technical shortcomings- In the context of the Tejas, the Su-30 acquisitions and the PAK-FA co-development programmes, the Carnegie report is clear in identifying technical shortcomings, and notes that “all three tiers of the IAF are currently in trouble”.
- The report urges India to be “cautious about expanding the Tejas acquisition beyond six squadrons and consider enlarging the MMRCA component with the cheapest fourth-generation-plus Western fighter available”.
- It also says that India should seek to expand its investments in advanced munitions “while being realistic about its domestic capacity to produce sophisticated combat aircraft”.
Myanmar’s slow, incomplete transition to democracy
When a government led by the National League for Democracy is sworn in on Wednesday, it will mark only progress and not complete change
- These were the comments by the country’s Senior General, Min Aung Hlaing over the weekend. His remarks confirmed that when a National League for Democracy (NLD)-led government is sworn in on Wednesday, it would only mark progress towards a predominantly civilian government, not an establishment of full democracy.
Role of armed forces here on
- During the transition to civilian rule, the military was Myanmar’s sole unifying force and protector of the Constitution.
- Myanmar’s constitutional arrangement- representatives of the armed forces will continue to retain three important portfolios in the Cabinet — home, defence and border affairs.
- Of these, the first mentioned is particularly significant, as it is not only responsible for maintaining peace and internal security, but all civil servants, right down to district level, report to it.
- If they so desire, the armed forces could indirectly “impede implementation of policies” of ministries being administered by the NLD.
Evolution of democracy
- After decades of junta regimes since 1962, Myanmar has undergone a steady transformation since 2011, thereby emerging from isolation to a budding acceptance by the international community.
- The military refused to recognise the NLD’s triumph in the 1990 elections; instead it placed the Nobel Prize winning Suu Kyi, daughter of the assassinated icon of Myanmar’s freedom movement against Britain, General Aung San, under house arrest.
- In 2010, however, General Thein Sein, switching from khakis to civvies, formed a political party — United Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) — to set up an armed forces-approved, reformist government a year later.
- In 2012, he granted Ms. Suu Kyi and some of her colleagues entry into Parliament in carefully calibrated by-elections.
- The NLD was required to win a minimum of 67 per cent of seats in the union legislature to earn the right to form a government. In the event, in what can be called a rousing triumph, it captured 75 per cent of the seats.
- Ms. Suu Kyi, who partly grew up in Delhi, where her mother Khin Kyi was Myanmar’s Ambassador, married an Oxford academic, now deceased. This resulted in her two sons adopting British nationality.
- To ostensibly deny her the post of head of government and state, the armed forces framed a clause in the country’s Constitution which debars a person with foreign children from holding such office. So the administration spearheaded by the NLD has an economist and close associate of Ms. Suu Kyi, Htin Kyaw, as President-elect, not Ms. Suu Kyi herself
- And this time, the military permitted Daw Suu — as she is popularly addressed — to take over the reins of power in the realms of economic development and external affairs.
- While this has not been officially announced, it appears to be an open secret that Ms. Suu Kyi may control as many as four departments in the government — foreign affairs, President’s office, education and energy & electric power.
Criticism for NLD
- At the same time, Ms. Suu Kyi’s choice of Finance and Commerce Ministers have given rise to controversy. Both are said to have fake degrees from American universities.
- NLD’s lack of information about the nominees’ backgrounds is also criticised. Its said that they should have looked for ability and qualifications, rather than appointing people close to the leadership.
- Its also indicated that India had played a helpful behind-the-scenes role in recommending the NLD to take control of “communication” by assuming charge of the ministry of information. This will be headed by a former journalist, Pe Myint.
- Myanmar is being as a battleground between the giants, India and China.
- India pursued a principled and hard-line approach towards the junta under Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, but without benefit. In fact, that approach consolidated cooperation between China and Myanmar to aid and abet separatists in India’s Northeast.
- Therefore, the tough line was reversed by Premier P.V. Narasimha Rao as a component of his “Look East” policy. Dr. Manmohan Singh visited Myanmar in 2012. Narendra Modi followed suit in 2014.
- Myanmar’s engagement with China expanded explosively during the Cold War following economic sanctions by the West. Consequently, New Delhi is far behind Beijing vis-à-vis investment and trade.
- However, New Delhi has been fighting back under the Rao doctrine, with extension of aid and soft credit to the tune $2 billion and trade rising to $2.5 billion in the current financial year.
- Pertinently, Ms. Suu Kyi is on record as stating: “Myanmar can play an important role in improving ties between India and China”. Time will tell whether this comes true.
Nuclear safety, terror to be in focus as PM plans three-nation tour
India’s agenda at the fourth Nuclear Security Summit (NSS 2016) in Washington
- Will push for a global initiative against nuclear terrorism.
- To safeguard the world from nuclear terrorism, India will ask for institutional follow-up through institutions like the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the United Nations, Interpol, and the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism (GICNT)
- Need to end the nexus between state sponsors of terror and nuclear terrorism. India has often called for measures against Pakistan for proliferation of nuclear materials, especially during the tenure of its former nuclear programme chief A.Q. Khan.
- Will also circulate a national plan and progress report covering the measures taken by India to prevent nuclear terrorism on the Indian soil.
Nuclear Security Summit (NSS)
- The Nuclear Security Summit (NSS) is a world summit, aimed at preventing nuclear terrorism around the globe.
- The first summit was held in Washington, D.C. on April 12–13, 2010. The second summit was held in Seoul, South Korea in 2012. The third summit was held inThe Hague, the Netherlands on March 24–25, 2014. The fourth summit will be held in Washington, D.C. on March 31-April 1, 2016
- Under the NSS process, countries work to improve their nuclear security on the basis of the Washington Work Plan, which contains numerous measures and action points. In Seoul a number of additional action points were formulated and set down in the Seoul Communiqué.
- The NSS process is ongoing, and since 2009 has required world leaders and diplomats to devote extra attention to the issue of nuclear security. Extensive consultations are held in the run-up to every summit.
Achievements of NSS
- Not only has the NSS raised awareness about the threat of nuclear terrorism, but its scenario-based threat analysis has led to the personal involvement of political leaders of major countries.
- The idea of “house gifts” or “gift basket” were excellent ways of getting countries to make pledges in the area of nuclear security. These were basically unilateral commitments made by individual countries (hence, ‘gifts’) in the area of nuclear security. These have included pledges such as a group of countries coming together on nuclear smuggling, reduction or freeing up of Highly Enriched Uranium, transport security, forensics in nuclear security, strengthening radiological security, among others.
- These have improved the safety and security policies and practices while strengthening transparency and confidence among the global nuclear community members.
- India’s gift basket to set up a Global Center for Nuclear Energy Partnership (GCNEP) went a long a way in boosting the global confidence about India’ nuclear security approach.
- The NSS also became an ideal platform for countries to share their best practices and countries have found it useful to learn from each other’s experiences.
- Moreover, 15 MT of highly enriched uranium (HEU) has been down-blended to low-enriched uranium, while 24 countries have agreed to give up their stocks of HEU thanks to the NSS process.
Criticism of NSS
- With the process limited to non-military purposes, 83 per cent of nuclear material is outside its ambit.
- Despite being projected as one of its initial goals, the NSS has not been able to amend the IAEA’s convention on nuclear safety.
- That there is no legally binding outcome at the end of six years of the NSS process is seen as a major drawback. The NSS has, instead, focused on asking countries to tighten their national laws, rules and capabilities on nuclear security. This has meant that military facilities are treated as national responsibilities and dealt with as per international obligations.
- The process is yet to get institutionalised and thus the fear that the forthcoming Nuclear Security Summit in Washington will be the last one.
- The fact that it has been tied to a particular US administration has also been a weakness.
- In addition, the lack of an overarching conclusion or declaration and the fact that this is not tied to any existing multilateral institutions such as the UN could see this process end.
- This year’s summit will be attended by 53 states and four global institutions, which cover 98 per cent of the nuclear material on the planet. Iran and North Korea are not invited, and Russian President Vladimir Putin will stay away due to his differences with Obama over Ukraine.
- The current edition will review the work done on nuclear security over the last six years.
NSS and India
- India has played an active role in these summits and made a voluntary contribution of $1 million to the Nuclear Security Fund.
- New Delhi has also established a Global Centre of Excellence for Nuclear Energy Partnership, where more than a dozen national and international training programmes have been conducted so far.
- Delhi has worked hard on the nuclear diplomatic agenda, which aims to establish India as a responsible nuclear-weapons state and ensure India’s participation in civilian international nuclear trade.
- India’s interests at the NSS lie in ensuring that all nuclear materials and facilities — in India and its neighbourhood — are subjected to the highest levels of security to prevent them from falling into the hands of terrorists.
- This edition of the NSS offers Modi another opportunity to pursue purposeful nuclear diplomacy.
- Nuclear security has concerned Indian political leadership and policy makers for a long time. Nevertheless, India’s policy attention on the subject is hardly known to the outside world. Therefore, if India were to take a leadership role on the nuclear security, it could be very beneficial. It will have an important bearing on India’s efforts to get integrated into the global non-proliferation architecture.
- India’s accession issues are not technical – India’s export control lists are more or less in sync with the control lists maintained by the global technology control regimes, which is the only real technical issue involved. As far as the technical parametres are concerned, India has totally streamlined its control lists (items that are controlled for exports) for the NSG and MTCR. On the Wassenaar Arrangement and Australia Group, there are certain gaps but still the problems faced by India are not so much related to these discrepancies but are more political in nature. Therefore, New Delhi needs to contemplate measures that would address the political perception problem. The NSG’s plenary meeting is to take place in June 2016 and the NSS presents an opportune moment to take some concrete steps.
The caveman’s best friend?
- Hunters searching for mammoth tusks in northeast Russia in 2011 were drawn to a steep riverbank by a deposit of ancient bones. To their astonishment, they discovered an Ice Age puppy’s snout peeking out from the permafrost.
- Five years later, a pair of puppies perfectly preserved in the region of Yakutia and dating back 12,460 years has mobilised scientists across the world.
Link to domestication
- “To find a carnivorous mammal intact with skin, fur and internal organs — this has never happened before in history. And the discovery could contribute to the lively scientific debate over the origin of domesticated dogs.
- A preliminary look at the mammoth remains also found at the dig suggested some had been butchered and burned, hinting at the presence of humans.
- It remains to be seen, however, whether the puppies were domesticated or wild.
- The answer can only be determined by reconstructing their genomes, which would take at least a year.
- “Thus far, the lineages of wolves that likely gave rise to dogs have not yet been discovered and it’s possible that these puppies could be on that lineage, which would be very exciting,
- What makes the dog particularly intriguing is that it managed to become “man’s best friend” even before humans became settled farmers.
- It is still unclear whether dogs were domesticated in one place or in several places independently, and whether the process started when humans took in cubs or whether wolves themselves gradually drifted to human sites in search of food.
Anthropocene era set in
- The results, found in a new research. are published in the journal Earth’s Future in London
- The impact that human beings have made on the Earth in terms of production and consumption of natural resources has formed a ‘striking new pattern’ in the planet’s global energy flow
- It showed definite signs that human beings have permanently changed the planet and have triggered Anthropocene — an era where humans dominated Earth’s surface geology.
Characterstics of the era
- mainly characterised by the patterns of human production and consumption .
- Human beings have seized something like one quarter of the net primary biological production of the planet.
- Humans are increasing productivity well above natural levels – by the following processes
- by digging phosphorus out of the ground
- by fixing nitrogen out of the air to make fertilizers;
- by exploiting hundreds of millions of years worth of stored carbon-based energy, .
- This refashioning of the relationship between Earth’s production and consumption is leaving signals in strata now forming, and this helps characterise the Anthropocene as a geological time unit
Syrian forces retake Palmyra, throw out IS
- Syrian troops recaptured the ancient city of Palmyra from the Islamic State and pledged to build on the victory with an advance against other jihadist strongholds.
- President Bashar Al-Assad hailed the victory as an “important achievement and fresh proof of the efficiency of the Syrian army and its allies in fighting terrorism.”
- The Army said pro-government forces had cleared IS fighters from the UNESCO world heritage site, where the jihadists sparked a global outcry with the systematic destruction of treasured monuments.
- The northern city of Raqqa is the IS’s main Syrian bastion and the oil-rich eastern province of Deir Ezzor is another key stronghold.
- Palmyra is an ancient Semitic city in present-day Syria.
- Archaeological finds date back to the Neolithic period and the city was first documented in the early second millennium BC.
- Palmyra changed hands on a number of occasions between different empires, before becoming a subject of the Roman Empire in the first century AD.
- An oasis in the Syrian desert, north-east of Damascus, Palmyra contains the monumental ruins of a great city that was one of the most important cultural centres of the ancient world. From the 1st to the 2nd century, the art and architecture of Palmyra, standing at the crossroads of several civilizations, married Graeco-Roman techniques with local traditions and Persian influences.
- Isis seized Palmyra in May 2015. The fall of the city gained worldwide attention as it hosts some of the most well-preserved ruins of antiquity. As well as destroying the iconic temples of Bel and Baalshamin and the Arch of Triumph, the group looted graves and used the amphitheatre to stage executions.
- The first images to emerge from the ancient city of Palmyra after Syrian regime forces expelled Islamic State fighters have shown large swaths of destruction but also suggest that several important archaeological sites are intact.
- Photographs of the Unesco world heritage-listed citadel, known as “the bride of the desert”, taken following the recapture of the city by Bashar al-Assad’s troops show the damage made by Isis during its 10-month occupation.
- The extremist group had destroyed some of Palmyra’s most treasured artefacts, including the Temple of Bel and the Arch of Triumph.
- However, some of Palmyra’s ruins appear to have survived, including the Agora and the celebrated Roman theatre.
Japan says India’s nuclear MoU “legally binding”
- India had committed to adhere to the “control of nuclear material, traceability [of nuclear fuel] and consequence in case of a nuclear accident” under the memorandum of understanding (MoU) on civil nuclear cooperation with Japan signed during Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s visit to India in 2015.
Issues that may arise out of the MoU
- Though the bilateral agreement leaves out India’s military nuclear programme, experts warn that the agreed principles impinge on India’s independent nuclear programme as they imply intrusive inspection of civilian nuclear reactors as warranted under the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT).
- The principles of traceability and control over nuclear material are highly intrusive measures that will be used by the Japanese to trace the nuclear fuel that Japanese-origin reactors sold to India will contain.
- Conditions on “traceability of nuclear fuel and safety of nuclear material” do not figure in the deals India concluded with the U.S., France and Russia. The MoU may destabilise India’s established nuclear deals with Russia and France as they too may demand similar commitments previously denied to them
- Top experts on nuclear affairs, however, describe the MoU as a “backdoor attempt to draw India into the NPT”.
- A Japanese diplomat pointed out that so far, the world had to rely on India’s verbal commitments on nuclear non-proliferation, but the India-Japan MoU marked the first occasion when India came under legal obligation to uphold non-proliferation concerns.The commitments were proof of India’s peaceful and transparent intentions in using nuclear reactors solely for energy generation.
- He further said India will be financially accountable if it is found to be violating the principles.
- An Indian official who has been associated with the negotiations said the principles being cited by the Japanese were nothing extraordinary and were part of the “standard template for civil nuclear deal” that India had signed with several countries. However, he refused to address the Japanese assertion that India would have to financially compensate Japan if it violated the principles.
NASA scientists reveal Pluto and its moons
- NASA scientists associated with interplanetary space probe New Horizons have revealed the former “astronomer’s planet” and its “intriguing system of small moons” in a comprehensive set of papers describing results from last summer’s Pluto system flyby.
- These five detailed papers completely transform our view of Pluto — revealing the former ‘astronomer’s planet’ to be a real world with diverse and active geology, exotic surface chemistry, a complex atmosphere, puzzling interaction with the Sun and an intriguing system of small moons
- After a 9.5-year, three-billion-mile journey — launching faster and travelling farther than any spacecraft to reach its primary target — New Horizons zipped by Pluto on July 14 last year.
- New Horizons’ seven science instruments collected about 50 gigabits of data on the spacecraft’s digital recorders, most of it coming over nine busy days surrounding the encounter
- The first close-up pictures revealed a large heart-shaped feature carved into Pluto’s surface, telling scientists that this “new” type of planetary world — the largest, brightest and first-explored in the mysterious, distant “third zone” of our solar system known as the Kuiper Belt —would be even more interesting and puzzling than models predicted.
- “Observing Pluto and Charon up close has caused us to completely reassess thinking on what sort of geological activity can be sustained on isolated planetary bodies in this distant region of the solar system, worlds that formerly had been thought to be relics little changed since the Kuiper Belt’s formation,” said Jeff Moore, lead author of the geology paper on Pluto.
Unisex contraceptives one step closer to reality
- Scientists have found a switch that triggers the ‘power kick’ sperms used to fertilise a human egg, uncovering a likely source of male infertility and a target for contraceptives that work in both men and women.
- The switch is a protein receptor that responds to the female sex hormone progesterone, which is released by the egg or oocyte, the ultimate goal towards which sperms swim.
- Thousands of these receptors sit on the surface of a sperm’s tail and when the sperm gets close to the egg, the hormone activates the receptor and triggers a cascade of changes that make the tail snap like a whip, powering the sperm into and hopefully through the cells protecting the egg.
- If the receptor protein doesn’t recognise progesterone, you would be infertile. This gives us an understanding of another pathway that is involved in human sperm activity
UNESCO updates protected biosphere reserves list
- The United Nation’s cultural body UNESCO has added 20 new sites to its network of protected biosphere nature reserves, including two in Canada and two in Portugal.
- The status was conferred during a two-day meeting in Lima, which brought the total number of biosphere reserves to 669 across 120 countries.
- In Canada, the Tsa Tue area in the country’s Northwest Territories that includes the last pristine arctic lake was added to the list, as was the Beaver Hills region of Alberta, which has a landscape formed by a retreating glacier.
- Britain’s Isle of Man, located in the Irish Sea in a biologically diverse marine environment, and Mexico’s Isla Cozumel were also selected for the network.
- And in Portugal, the entire Island of Sao Jorge, the fourth largest in the Azores Archipelago, was designated a reserve in addition to the Tajo River region between Portugal and Spain.
- The list of new UNESCO biosphere reserves also includes sites in Algeria, Ghana, Haiti, India, Indonesia, Iran, Italy, Kazakhstan, Madagascar, Morocco, Peru, the Philippines and Tanzania.
- Of the hundreds of locations on the list, 16 are sites that stretch across more than one country. Spain is the country with the largest number of registered reserves.
- During the meeting, nine extensions to existing biosphere reserves were also approved.
- Meanwhile, the Australia ended its push to log World Heritage-listed forests on the island State of Tasmania , after UNESCO issued a report calling for the area to remain protected from logging.
India’s Agasthyamala among 20 UNESCO world biosphere reserves
- The sustained campaign to include the Agasthyamala Biosphere Reserve (ABR) in UNESCO’s World Network of Biosphere Reserves (BR) has eventually paid off.
- The Agasthyamala Biosphere Reserve was included at the International Coordinating Council of the Man and the Biosphere programme of UNESCO that concluded in Peru on March 19.
Agasthyamala Biosphere Reserve
- The ABR is situated at the southern-most end of the Western Ghats and spread over Kerala and Tamil Nadu and covers an area of 3,500 sq km at an altitude ranging from 100 metres to 1,868 metres above the Mean Sea Level.
- The ABR covers the Shendurney and Peppara wildlife sanctuaries and parts of the Neyyar sanctuary in Kerala and the Kalakad Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve of Tamil Nadu.
- The area falls in the Malabar rainforests and is one of the noted hotspot areas because of its position in the Western Ghats, according to the management plan of the reserve. It is estimated that more than 2,250 species of dicotyledonous plants are in the area and 29 are endemic to the region. Many plants are considered endangered too.
- Researchers have noted that about 400 Red Listed Plants have been recorded from ABR. About 125 species of orchids and rare, endemic and threatened plants have been recorded from the reserve
- The Agasthyamala Biosphere Reserve was the only site considered from the country by the International Advisory Committee for Biosphere Reserves during the Paris session held last year. That time, the ABR was listed in the category of “nominations recommended for approval, pending the submission of specific information.”
- Biosphere reserves are areas of terrestrial and coastal ecosystems promoting solutions to reconcile the conservation of biodiversity with its sustainable use. They are internationally recognized, nominated by national governments and remain under sovereign jurisdiction of the states where they are located.
How did the biosphere reserve concept start?
- The origin of Biosphere Reserves goes back to the “Biosphere Conference” organized by UNESCO in 1968.
- This was the 1st intergovernmental conference examining how to reconcile the conservation and use of natural resources, thereby foreshadowing the presentday notion of sustainable development.
- This Conference resulted in the launching of the UNESCO “Man and the Biosphere” (MAB) Programme in 1970.
- One of the original MAB projects consisted in establishing a coordinated World Network of sites representing the main ecosystems of the planet in which genetic resources would be protected, and where research on ecosystems as well as monitoring and training work could be carried out.
- These sites were named as “Biosphere Reserves”, in reference to the MAB programme itself.
What are the functions of biosphere reserves?
- Each biosphere reserve is intended to fulfil 3 basic functions, which are complementary and mutually reinforcing:
- a conservation function – to contribute to the conservation of landscapes, ecosystems, species and genetic variation;
- a development function – to foster economic and human development which is socioculturally and ecologically sustainable;
- a logistic function – to provide support for research, monitoring, education and information exchange related to local, national and global issues of conservation and development.
What are the biosphere reserve zones?
Biosphere reserves are organized into 3 interrelated zones:
- the core area
- the buffer zone
- the transition area
- Only the core area requires legal protection and hence can correspond to an existing protected area such as a nature reserve or a national park. This zonation scheme is applied in many different ways in the real world to accommodate geographical conditions, sociocultural settings, available legal protection measures and local constraints.
- This flexibility can be used creatively and is one of the strongest points of the biosphere reserve concept, facilitating the integration of protected areas into the wider landscape.
What are the benefits of biosphere reserves?
- The biosphere reserve concept can be used as a framework to guide and reinforce projects to enhance people’s livelihoods and ensure environmental sustainability. UNESCO’s recognition can serve to highlight and reward such individual efforts.
- The designation of a site as a biosphere reserve can raise awareness among local people, citizens and government authorities on environmental and development issues. It can help to attract additional funding from different sources.
- At the national level, biosphere reserves can serve as pilot sites or ‘learning places’ to explore and demonstrate approaches to conservation and sustainable development, providing lessons which can be applied elsewhere.
- In addition, they are a concrete means for countries to implement Agenda 21, the Convention on Biological Diversity (for example the Ecosystem Approach), many Millennium Development Goals (for example on environmental sustainability), and the UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development.
- In the case of large natural areas which straddle national boundaries, transboundary biosphere reserves can be established jointly by the countries concerned, testifying to long-term cooperative efforts.
India and biosphere reserves
- With the addition of the ABR, 10 of the 18 biosphere reserves in the country have made it to the list.
- The others are Nilgiri, Gulf of Mannar, Sunderban, Nanda Devi, Nokrek, Pachmarh, Similipal, Achanakmar-Amarkantak and Great Nicobar.
- The BRs are designated for inclusion in the network by the International Coordinating Council after evaluating the nominations forwarded by the State through National MAB Committees.
- The ABR would benefit from the shared scientific expertise of all the other members of the world network. The State is expected to work for the conservation of nature at the reserve while it fosters the sustainable development of its population, said a UNESCO official.
- There are 669 biosphere reserves in as many as 120 countries.
U.K. lifts ban on Sikh separatist outfit
- In a move that is likely to cause consternation in New Delhi, the British government has lifted the ban on the International Sikh Youth Federation (ISYF) after both houses of the British Parliament supported a motion to drop it from the list of proscribed organisations.
- The statutory instrument relating to the Terrorism Act 2000 (Proscribed Organisations) (Amendment) Order 2016 was signed by Minister of State in the Home Office, John Hayes.
- The ISYF, a separatist group committed to the creation of Khalistan, was established in the 1984 as the global branch of the All India Sikh Students Federation. It was proscribed as a terrorist organisation in 2001 by the British government for its attacks, which included assassinations, bombings and kidnappings against Indian officials.
- The most recent assassination attempt by Sikh terrorists was in September 2012 against Lieutenant-General Kuldeep Singh Brar and his wife. The general, who led the military offensive codenamed Operation Bluestar against terrorists holed up in the Golden Temple in 1982, narrowly escaped death when four Sikh men attacked him and his wife with knives in central London.
- Yet, in his statement to the House of Commons, Minister of State for Home Lord Bates said that although in the past the ISYF was involved in terrorism, “there is now not sufficient evidence to support a reasonable belief that the ISYF is currently concerned in terrorism as defined by Section 3(5) of the Terrorism Act 2000.
- The Sikh Federation will use the British decision to put pressure on the U.S. and Canada to lift the bans in their countries on the organisation.
Obama signs sanctions order against N. Korea
- U.S. President Barack Obama signed an order implementing UN-backed sanctions on North Korea after a nuclear test and missile launch this year, as Pyongyang promised reprisals.
- The executive order targetted the volatile hermit state’s energy, financial and shipping assets.
- The measures were agreed to at the United Nations in response to the January 6 nuclear test and February 7 ballistic missile launch.
- Among the entities targeted are the “Propaganda and Agitation Department” of the Workers’ Party of Korea and mining firms that provide the regime with much-needed revenues.
‘Nepal should stay the course on amendments
- India and other members of the Human Rights Council pushed Nepal to carry out more constitutional amendments to accommodate the democratic aspirations of citizens from Nepal’s plains.
- In a statement issued after the Human Rights Council’s meeting in Geneva, the Ministry of External Affairs urged Nepal to create “strong consensus” for peaceful political change.
- Analysts have pointed out that India’s reminder on the amendments is significant as it came 24 hours after the meeting between Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar and Nepal’s Madhesi leaders in Kathmandu.
- While countries like China, Pakistan, Singapore, and Maldives adopted a softer tone at the HRC’s meeting for Outcomes of the Universal Periodic Review on Nepal, India reminded Nepal to stay the course on the path of more constitutional amendments which was started to end the five-month long economic blockade by the Madhesis.
Kurds declare federal region in Syria
- Syria’s Kurds declared a federal region in areas under their control in the north of the conflict-hit country. More than 150 delegates from Kurdish, Arab, Assyrian and other parties meeting in Syria agreed to create a “federal system” unifying territory run by Kurds across several Syrian provinces (in Rojava [three Kurdish cantons] and northern Syria)
- Kurdish parties already operate a system of three “autonomous administrations” in Syria’s north, with independent police forces and schools. The three cantons stretch along Syria’s northern border with Turkey and are known as Afrin and Kobani, both in Aleppo province, and Jazire in Hasakeh province. The new “federal system” is expected to centralise governance in the three cantons under elected councils.
- Both the government and an opposition coalition rejected the move.
- The announcement is likely to anger neighbouring Turkey and has complicated peace talks in Geneva aimed at ending the five-year civil war.
- The U.S., a key backer of Kurdish fighters in the battle against the Islamic State (IS), has also warned that it would not recognise any self-ruled Kurdish region within Syria.
India’s beef-free pork import norm draws U.S. protest
- Buoyed by its victory at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) last year against India’s poultry import ban, the U.S. has now trained its guns on the country’s pork import regulations — which include a condition that such consignments must be beef-free.
- During recent bilateral discussions, India made it clear to the U.S. that the requirement – that pork import consignments must be beef-free — cannot be done away with due to apprehensions of such a move “hurting religious sentiments and provoking riots,”
- The requirement is also in place due to health reasons – to protect human health by preventing the spread of infectious diseases from animals, they added.
- Pigs are usually fed with food ingredients of animal origin to meet their protein requirements. Such animal feeds — including meat/bone/blood meal and hydrolysed intestinal tissues — are among the most cost-effective methods to hike protein levels in the diet of animals such as pigs. However, many Indian States prevent cow slaughter. Also, beef ban, in states such as Maharashtra, had recently become controversial and the BJP had turned beef into a major political issue.
- New Delhi has emphasised that if the US wants to export pork / pork products to India without trouble, all such consignments must come with an official veterinary certificate that the animal (pig in this case) was not fed with feed derived from cows / beef / beef products.
- The requirement of a veterinary certificate stating among other things that “the consignment(s) of processed and unprocessed pork and pork products destined to India do not contain beef and beef products in any form” will not be removed
- They said the US claims the condition is not based on a scientific risk assessment and the concerned international standard (World Organisation for Animal Health). However, citing the example of Australia fulfilling all the pork import norms of India to increase their exports of the item, the Indian authorities have asked the US to do the same
Indian workers may face deportation under new U.K. law
- Thousands of Indians in the U.K. may get hit by a new law from next month under which they could be deported if their annual salary is below £35,000.
- The changes will affect professionals living and working in Britain on a Tier-2 visa who earn less than £ 35,000 a year at the end of five years of their stay in the country.
- The U.K. government changed the settlement rules in 2012 to break the link between coming to work in the U.K. and staying in UK permanently. The new rules would apply to migrants who entered Tier-2 from April 6, 2011. Those individuals were aware when they entered that new settlement rules would apply to them
- Indian professionals have formed the largest category of individuals issued such visas over the years
Research tie-ups with Saudi Arabia growing
- In the last decade, India has seen a 10-fold increase in its research collaboration with Saudi Arabia, according to a study commissioned by the Department of Science and Technology (DST) and conducted by Thomson Reuters.
- In the period 2005-2008, Saudi Arabia was only the 20th most prolific contributor of India, with 123 jointly-authored papers involving Indian and Saudi Arabian researchers. This has skyrocketed to 1,303 in 2013-2014, making the oil rich kingdom India’s 12th most important contributor, surpassing Switzerland, Russia, The Netherlands and Poland.
- In other words, from having merely 0.1 per cent of India’s total collaborative research publication output in 2005, Saudi Arabia contributes now 1.25 per cent — a 10-fold increase. In comparison, the U.S. has only increased from 6.67 per cent to 7.47 per cent.
- For their analysis, the report employs a tool called ‘Web of Science’, a popular, online search tool, used often by scientists to search for research related to their sub-fields. The most prolific Saudi Arabian university mentioned in the analysis is the King Saud University, which is now among the top collaborators with Indian institutions.
- While the Indian institutions, who’ve been involved with Saudi Arabia, are wide ranging such as the IITs, Council of Scientific and Industrial Research and the Delhi University, there’s been a significant increase in collaborations involving researchers at the Aligarh Muslim University and Jamia Millia Islamia and many Saudi Arabian universities.
Problems faced by The new citizens after excahange of enclaves
- More than 14,000 people were granted Indian citizenship on both sides following the ratification of the Land Boundary Agreement between the two countries in 2015.
- The issues are different for two sets of enclave dwellers — Indians who came from Bangladesh and the Bangladeshi citizens who were already residing on the Indian side.
- A crucial issue facing the enclave dwellers is the settlement of private land on which the families on the Indian side were settled. They have not been given any patta establishing their claim over the land.
- People are becoming restless and in some pockets they are resisting the survey to build government infrastructure like roads, police stations and post offices.
- Another important issue that worries Indian citizens of Bangladesh is lack of jobs.
- District administration arranged for work in a jute mill close to Kolkata, but the dwellers refused to move citing low wage and for fear of “being permanently displaced” from home where they had just arrived.
- The quantity of food grains provided was an issue. A family of eight or 10 is only given as much food grain as a family of one or two is.
- Another problem is the police check post outside Mekhliganj camp. It still remains, the district administration’s “promise” to remove it notwithstanding.
- The administration plans to give voting rights to the erstwhile enclave dwellers in the upcoming West Bengal elections
- Now their only hope is to raise the issues with the candidates, when they reach the enclaves to campaign for the upcoming poll. The number votes in certain pockets is quite high.
U.S. push for joint patrols in Indo-Pacific region
- The United States continues to push India towards joint naval patrols and multilateral groupings in the Indo-Pacific region.
- In the first ever trilateral dialogue between India, Japan and Australia held last year, the three sides discussed “maritime security — including freedom of navigation patrols — and trilateral cooperation” in the Indian and Pacific Oceans.
- This development is significant as all three countries have been traditionally reluctant to take any measures that could antagonise China.
- A senior officer from US added that the trilateral should be expanded to a quadrilateral format including United States
- The Malabar bilateral naval exercises have been last year expanded to trilateral format including Japan.
- Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar said that there was no scope for such patrols at this point of time.
6 Indian seamen freed from Egyptian prison
- Six Indian seamen languishing in a jail in Egypt for over two years on charges of drug-trafficking have been released and returned home
- The six Indian men were arrested in February 2014 near the Red Sea resort of Hurghada, Egypt, while they were employed in a Greek-owned ship — named Callisto, which was en route from the UAE to Egypt.
- Subsequently, a case of drug trafficking was filed against the Captain, Engineer (both Syrian nationals), and the six Indian seamen.
- Ms. Swaraj, during her visit to Egypt on August 25 last year, had met the six men and raised their issue with Egyptian Foreign Minister.
ISS crew return to Earth after one year in space
- U.S. astronaut Scott Kelly and Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko returned to Earth after spending almost a year in space in a ground-breaking experiment foreshadowing a potential manned mission to Mars.
- The 340-day mission saw Mr. Kelly break the record for the longest single stay in space by a U.S. astronaut, while Mr. Kornienko is now fifth on the list for lengthiest mission by a Russian cosmonaut.
- The “one-year crew” mission — which began on March 27 last year — was the longest by any astronauts aboard the ISS and seen as a vital chance to measure the effects of a prolonged period in space on the human body. They have been subjected to a battery of tests and other experiments in preparation for a future manned mission to Mars and beyond.
- Weightlessness reduces muscle mass and bone density and is believed to diminish eyesight by increasing cerebrospinal fluid around the optic nerve.
- Mr. Kelly, 52, was also part of an experiment comparing his development and changes in space with his identical twin brother — Mark — back on Earth.
- In his year aboard the space station Mr. Kelly has been an avid Internet poster, capturing stunning views on his Instagram page and tweeting regularly to nearly a million followers while travelling some 230 million kilometres.
SCOTT KELLY GREW TALLER IN SPACE
- Astronaut Scott Kelly, who recently got back after a year in space, is now about two inches taller than when he left Earth. But the change could be temporary, scientists said.
CCS clears two more AWACS from Israel
- Ahead of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Israel later this year, a first by an Indian Prime Minister, the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) has cleared the purchase of additional surveillance aircraft from the century.
- The CCS chaired by Mr. Modi cleared the proposal to acquire two more Phalcon Airborne Early Warning and Control Systems (AWACS) under a tripartite agreement with Israel and Russia.
- The AWACS are advanced radars mounted on an aircraft to give 360 degree coverage to detect incoming aircraft and missiles at long ranges.
- India had procured three Phalcon AWACS, Israeli radars mounted on Russian IL-76 transport aircraft, in 2003 at cost of $1 billion. Indo-Israel ties got a major boost after Mr. Modi came to power.
9 killed in attack on Indian mission in Afghanistan
- In the fourth attack since 2007, terrorists, including suicide bombers, struck the Indian consulate in Jalalabad city of Afghanistan killing nine persons and causing damage to the chancery.
- The External Affairs Ministry said all Indians in the mission were safe and six terrorists were dead. Two civilians and an Afghan security person were also killed.