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Today’s important articles/news in various newspapers (29th August)

Dear aspirants, following are the links of various articles taken from various newspapers. Click the link to read further. To get notification, follow the blog. Thank you

1. Easing tensions: on U.S.-Mexico trade deal

US and Mexico have reached a trade deal, paving the way to replace NAFTA. The bilateral deal between the U.S. and Mexico offers hope of winding down global trade wars.

Background:

The North American Free Trade Agreement, known usually as NAFTA, is a free trade agreement among Canada, the United States, and Mexico. NAFTA went into effect on January 1, 1994. NAFTA is also used to refer to the tripartite trading bloc of North American countries.

Details:

  • The US and Mexico reached a breakthrough bilateral trade agreement NAFTA after Mexico agreed to the concessions demanded by the Donald Trump administration.
  • The deal comes in the aftermath of President Trump’s statement in June that he might enter into separate trade agreements with Canada and Mexico, thus effectively junking the tripartite NAFTA deal.
  • It has also invited Canada to join talks for a renegotiation of trade terms in favour of U.S. interests.
  • According to the new agreement,
  • 75% of all automobile content must be made regionally, which is higher than the current level of 62.5%.
  • 40-45% of such content must be manufactured using labour that costs at least $16 an hour. The U.S. hopes that this will discourage manufacturers from moving their facilities to Mexico, where labour is available at rates lower than in the U.S.

Lesson to other countries:

Mexico’s decision could set an example for other countries which have resorted to retaliatory tariffs to deal with Mr. Trump’s aggressive trade war against them.

  • The favourable market reaction post the deal was a sign of relief, riding on hopes that tit-for-tat tariff wars between the U.S. and its trade allies could draw to a close.
  • It is worth noting that Mexico had earlier joined hands with other economies such as Canada, China and the European Union to impose retaliatory tariffs against the U.S.
  • China has been at the forefront of the tit-for-tat approach, slapping tariffs on several U.S. goods, together worth billions of dollars.
  • There is no doubt that Mr. Trump’s protectionist trade policy, including the current deal which increases restrictions on cross-border trade in order to protect U.S. jobs, is bad for the global economy.
  • Nevertheless, the best way to win the trade war against the U.S. may simply be to accept “defeat” by refusing to double down on retaliatory tariffs.
  • Retaliatory tariffs can only cause further harm to the world economy by increasing the burden of taxes on the private sector, which is crucial to spur growth and create jobs.
  • Further, there is no reason for America’s trading partners to deprive the domestic consumers of access to useful foreign goods in a mechanism to protect themselves from US Tariffs.

The right response to Mr. Trump’s trade war will be to abstain from any mutually destructive tit-for-tat tariff regimes while simultaneously pushing for peace talks.

2. Pieces of the Asian dream

Various events in the recent times like the informal Narendra Modi-Xi Jinping summit at Wuhan, Prime Minister’s keynote speech at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore, the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) Summit in Qingdao have sparked a lot of analysis as to what kind of strategic positioning India is gearing itself; especially at a time when the U.S. and China are caught up in geopolitical rivalry in the Asia-Pacific. The editorial speaks about India’s Geopolitics in the Indo-pacific region.

Details:

  • 2018 has so far been the year of the India-China reset (cooperation).
  • In Singapore, Mr. Modi’s speech proclaimed India’s ambitions to garner influence in the Indo-Pacific region by
  1. Increasing engagement with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)
  2. Developing friendship with China
  3. Maintaining cordial ties with Russia
  4. Pursuing interests with Australia and
  5. Engaging more with the U.S.

The question now is, what shape will India’s lead take?

The fight for power between India and China:

  • As India and China pursue their interests in the littoral states spread across the Indo-Pacific region, the sea lanes and coke points continue to be impacted.
  • India pursues influence through
  1. Heightened diplomatic engagement
  2. Bilateral engagement and
  • military engagement,
  • Whereas, China has started to heighten its influence through hard investments in littoral nations suffering from massive infrastructural deficits.
  • China’s heavy investments in ASEAN nations have influenced these nations to the point where despite an international ruling against its activities in the South China Sea (SCS), the ASEAN as a bloc agreed to cooperate with China on a Code of Conduct instead of pursuing the international ruling.
  • The influence of China on certain ASEAN states like Cambodia has been such that during the 2016 ASEAN ministerial meeting, it refused to endorse the joint communiqué if it included the international court ruling against Beijing with respect to the South China Sea.
    • China is today Cambodia’s largest provider of foreign aid and has invested in dams, oilfields, highways, textile operations and mines.
    • Philippines has been seeking resumption of harmonious relations with China, especially after 2016, when U.S. legislators blocked the sale of about 26,000 M4 rifles. Beijing provided rifles and police and guns to fight against extremists in the city of Marawi.
  • ASEAN’s trade with China far surpasses that with India, and Chinese foreign direct investment in ASEAN is nine times higher than India’s.
  • Despite India’s cordial relations with ASEAN, India must go a step ahead of diplomatic hobnobbing to gather support to contain China’s growing military presence and hard cash power in the Indo-Pacific region.

India’s influence in its neighbourhood:

  • So far, India has failed to provide any concrete plans for its immediate neighbourhood in South Asia.
  • India Nepal relationship has been souring due to the 2015 fuel blockade.
  • A failed strategic intervention in Sri Lanka has undermined India’s regional leadership.
  • Countries like Nepal and Sri Lanka have been demonstrating interest in partnering with China.
    • China’s multibillion dollar investments in Sri Lankan ports and cities have inched the country much closer to China. Sri Lanka has handed over its Hambantota port to China on a 99-year lease.
    • Under its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), China has over the years promised billions to littoral states in the Indian Ocean Region to build a series of ports, something resource-constrained India will find difficult to match.
  • However, the overt-assertiveness of China has driven many countries in East and Southeast Asia to seek friendship with India. For instance, Indonesia and Singapore are looking to strengthen relations with India.
  • ASEAN has a cultural affinity with India with its shared religious diversity, ancient ties and a sizeable Indian diaspora in countries like Singapore and Malaysia.
  • After the U.S., India enjoys global soft power through its art, literature, music, dance and cinema.
  • India is perceived by many in East Asia as a friendly democracy, making the country a safe ally to have in the long run.
  • Japan has significantly increased its engagement with India and the two countries enjoy robust military ties.
  • India and Australia have initiated the ‘2+2’ dialogue signalling Canberra’s interest in deepening a maritime security partnership with India.

But India still has to develop a strategy to leverage its soft power and optimise its military power to effectively counter China’s cash and hard power.

The big reset between India and China:

  • With China, India can strike a better strategic bargain compared to the smaller states in the region.
  • At the SCO Summit, Mr. Xi renewed China’s agreement with India on sharing data on the cross-border flow of waters from the Brahmaputra during the flood season.
  • The two countries signed a protocol that would enable all varieties of rice exports from India to China, something that would help India rectify its adverse balance of payments against China.
  • Xi has also suggested a trade target of $100 billion by 2020, signalling a gradual reset in relations.

Way Forward:

  • India should maximise its soft power in South, East and Southeast Asia even as it resets ties with China.
  • For example, by demonstrating a willingness to join the Belt and Road Initiative, India can positively influence China to re-evaluate the details of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor. It would be difficult for China to take forward the BRI without participation from India.
  • With a strategic partnership with China, India can better pursue its own regional groupings like the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) and Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal (BBIN) initiative.
  • Strategic understanding with China can help streamline regional connectivity projects and help India gain influence in the region as India cannot batch China’s resource spending.

India is clearly seeking its rightful place in the League of Nations by outlining its geopolitical role, particularly in the Indo-Pacific region. India must, with its limited resources and geo political strategy play out against a resourceful and assertive China.

3. India needs to walk the talk on Bimstec

  1. As the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc) is unlikely to make a comeback, India’s efforts to promote regional cooperation will continue to focus on the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (Bimstec)
  2. But unless leaders from the seven Bimstec member-states use this week’s summit in Kathmandu to strengthen the organization’s capacity and set clear priorities, we will be left with just a few more speeches and declarations of intent

Why does India need to do more?

  1. India has a special responsibility to prove that it sees Bimstec as more than a rebound relationship to Saarc
  2. In October 2016, just after the cancellation of Saarc summit, Prime Minister Narendra Modi convened a Brics-Bimstec outreach summit in Goa and then promised to revive Bimstec as India’s priority organization to promote regional cooperation
  3. While Modi spoke in Goa, India had still not placed its director to the Bimstec secretariat in Dhaka, more than two years after its establishment
  4. Also indicating India’s lack of interest, the ministry of external affairs’ (MEA’s) estimated budget for Bimstec that year was just ₹12 lakh

Expectations from BIMSTEC

  1. Bimstec is now supposed to perform at the level of an Association of Southeast Asian Nations or the European Union
  2. Bimstec is mandated to deepen regional cooperation through nothing less than 14 working groups, covering everything under the Bay of Bengal sun, including a free trade agreement, poverty alleviation, tourism, energy and climate change, and even counterterrorism and disaster management

Increasing BIMSTEC’s efficiency

  • Nothing will progress unless the Bimstec secretariat is significantly empowered
  1. With a paltry budget of $0.2 million and a total staff of less than 10 people, including the secretary general and three directors, the secretariat will need significantly more human and financial resources to implement its bold mandate
  2. Member-states will also have to delegate autonomy to the secretariat to hire technical experts, set the multilateral agenda, and serve as the driving force between summits and ministerial meetings
  • India will need to take on an informal Bimstec leadership role and let its practical commitments lead by example
  1. Officials from Thailand, Bangladesh, Bhutan and Sri Lanka have repeatedly expressed their willingness to focus on Bimstec, provided India walks the talk and takes the first step
  2. This requires taking on an asymmetric burden, ensuring that India is always represented at the highest level and also willing to walk the extra mile, whether by keeping the momentum diplomatically or committing financial and human resources to strengthen Bimstec
  • Bimstec will have to prioritize economic connectivity, which is the prerequisite for regional integration in any other domain
  1. While the Bimstec free trade agreement has stalled once again, India has instead focused on security issues, including by hosting the first meeting of the Bimstec national security chiefs
  2. With its limited resources, Bimstec’s success continues to primarily hinge on removing the formidable physical and regulatory obstacles to the free flow of goods, capital, services and people between its member-states

Way Forward

  1. Geostrategic imperatives, security dialogues, or counterterrorism cooperation initiatives are no substitute for Bimstec’s primary mandate to increase regional connectivity and revive the Bay of Bengal community
  2. Bimstec will continue to underperform in each and every regard unless member-states commit significant resources to strengthen the organization
  3. Bimstec can be the natural platform for India to simultaneously implement its regional connectivity, Neighbourhood First and Act East policies

4.  SC finds audit of child shelters ‘frightening’

  • The Supreme Court on Tuesday called the preliminary contents of a social audit conducted by the National Commission for the Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) as “frightening.”
  • In an affidavit filed before a Bench led by Justice Madan B. Lokur, the NCPCR, represented by advocate Anindita Pujari, submitted that out of a total of 2,874 children’s homes surveyed, only 54 institutions could be given positive reviews.
  • The NCPCR is carrying out an audit of child care institutions and other bodies such as children homes, open shelters, observation homes, special homes, places of safety, specialised adoption agencies and fit facilities under the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015, and Model Rules.
  • The audit is being conducted in compliance with a Supreme Court order on May 5, 2017.
  • Key findings
  • Out of 185 shelter homes audited across the country, only 19 had “all the records of a child that they are supposed to maintain.”
  • Of the 203 special adoption agencies, only eight deserved positive reviews.
  • Similarly, only 16% of the 172 observation homes audited till July 31, 2018, had all the required records of the children, like case histories and who are residing there.
  • Again, out of 80 special homes/place of safety only 13% have the complete set of records.
  • The commission urged the court to direct the States to take positive measures to improve the condition of CCIs.
  • The court said that had the authorities functioned properly, recent incidents like the one in Muzaffarpur in Bihar where several girls were allegedly raped and sexually abused in a shelter home would not have happened.

The National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR)

  • The National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) was set up in March 2007 under the Commissions for Protection of Child Rights (CPCR) Act, 2005, an Act of Parliament (December 2005).
  • National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) is a statutory body under the Commissions for Protection of Child Rights (CPCR) Act, 2005 under the administrative control of the Ministry of Women & Child Development, Government of India.
  • The Commission’s Mandate is to ensure that all Laws, Policies, Programmes, and Administrative Mechanisms are in consonance with the Child Rights perspective as enshrined in the Constitution of India and also the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
  • The Child is defined as a person in the 0 to 18 years age group.

5. Punjab House passes Bills to curb sacrilege

  • The Punjab Assembly on Tuesday unanimously passed Bills for an amendment to the Indian Penal Code and the Code of Criminal Procedure to make desecration of all religious texts punishable with life imprisonment.
  • The IPC (Punjab Amendment) Bill, 2018, has inserted Section 295AA to provide that “whoever causes injury, damage or sacrilege to Sri Guru Granth Sahib, Srimad Bhagavad Gita, the Holy Quran and the Holy Bible with the intention to hurt the religious feelings of the people shall be punished with imprisonment for life.”
  • It also states, “In the IPC, 1860, in its application to the State of Punjab, in Section 295, for the words “two years,” the words “10 years” shall be substituted.
  • Chief Minister Capt. Amarinder Singh in his statement said, “In the recent past there have been attempts to disturb peace and communal harmony in the State by committing sacrilege of Sri Guru Granth Sahib, Srimad Bhagwad Gita and Holy Quran.
  • The government is determined not to allow such incidents and ensure deterrent action against all those who commit such sacrilege.
  • The proposed Indian Penal Code (Punjab Amendment) Bill, 2018, aims to achieve this objective by providing punishment of life imprisonment for such acts of sacrilege.”
  • The other Bill — ‘Code of Criminal Procedure (Punjab Amendment) Bill, 2018,’ provides to insert section 295AA — “injuring, causing any damage or sacrilege to Sri Guru Granth Sahib, Srimad Bhagwad Gita, Holy Quran and Holy Bible with an intention to hurt the religious feeling of the people.”
  • The amendments would need the assent of the President. Under the existing Section 295A, punishment is for a maximum of three years’ imprisonment with or without fine.

Police Bill

The Assembly also passed the Punjab Police (second amendment) Bill, 2018, which provides,

  • “The State government shall select the Director General of Police from amongst the Indian Police Service (IPS) from a panel of at least three eligible officers borne on the cadre of Punjab or any state cadre, who are in the rank of Director General or are eligible to hold this rank for appointment as DGP, based on their service record and range of experience, having a reasonable period of remainder service left, which shall in no case be less than twelve months as on the date of appointment.”

The Shiromani Akali Dal and BJP legislators boycotted the proceedings when the debate on the Justice Ranjit Singh Commission’s report began, expressing unhappiness over the “less time” allotted to the party. Akali Dal members later staged a “mock session” outside the House as a mark of protest.

Sacrilege

  • Sacrilege is the violation or injurious treatment of a sacred object or person. This can take the form of irreverence to sacred persons, places, and things.
  • When the sacrilegious offence is verbal, it is called blasphemy, and when physical, it is often called desecration.
  • In a less proper sense, any transgression against what is seen as the virtue of religion would be a sacrilege, and so is coming near a sacred place without permission.

6. Kudumbashree members clean Kerala

  • If Kerala’s fishermen were at the forefront of saving marooned people from flood-hit areas, workers of the Kudumbashree poverty eradication and women empowerment programme are going the whole hog to restore normal life in the regions scarred by the disaster.
  • Over 1.13 lakh residential premises across 10 districts have so far been cleaned and made habitable by the workers.
  • They have also cleaned over 3,100 public spaces while our community counsellors, 320 in all, offered psychological support to over 11,000 affected people .
  • This is a fine model of community service by the self-help group in post-disaster reconstruction.
  • Members of the mission also chipped in with their weekly thrift — savings that range between ₹10 and ₹20 — for ‘Snehanidhi,’ donation to the Chief Minister’s Disaster Relief Fund.
  • Kudumbashree workers had been active from the initial days of the flood, making packaged meals available to affected people. In the first three days from August 15, some 16,000 food packets were distributed at relief camps in Pathanamthitta district alone.
  • The mission also mobilised workers en masse from non-affected or less-affected areas to carry out cleaning drives in hard-hit regions in Pathanamthitta and Wayanad.
  • A total of 6,757 women from the Kudumbashree neighbourhood groups were mobilised to clean living premises.
  • Each cleaning team had about 20 to 25 women equipped with bleaching and cleaning lotions. They were supported by the respective panchayats, Health Department and Accredited Social Health Activists (ASHAs.

Massive mobilisation

  • Such massive mobilisations are led by the respective district mission coordination teams.
  • Its State-wide network proved effective in tackling tough situations.
  • For instance, at Chengannur, the cleaning team suddenly realised that they needed the traditional brooms made of coconut leaf midriff to sweep the mud-laden premises of households.
  • In no time, some 2,000 brooms were made available by our Kannur team for the purpose. The office staff of the mission in Thiruvananthapuram also joined the field teams in carrying out cleaning activities.

Kudumbashree

  • Kudumbashree is the women empowerment and poverty eradication program, framed and enforced by the State Poverty Eradication Mission (SPEM) of the Government of Kerala.
  • The Mission aims to eradicate absolute poverty within a definite time frame of 10 years under the leadership of Local Self Governments formed and empowered by the 73rd and 74th Amendments of the Constitution of India.
  • The Mission launched by the State Government with the active support of Government of India and NABARD has adopted a different methodology in addressing poverty by organizing the poor in to community-based organizations. The Mission follows a process approach rather than a project approach.
  • The mission was officially inaugurated by the then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee in 1998 as requested by the State Government.
  • Kudumbashree, a community organization of Self Help Groups (SHG’s) of women in Kerala, has been recognized as an effective strategy for the empowerment of women in rural as well as urban areas: bringing women together from all spheres of life to fight for their rights or for empowerment.
  • The overall empowerment of women is closely linked to economic empowerment. Women through these NHGs work on a range of issues such as health, nutrition, agriculture, etc. besides income generation activities and seeking micro credit.
  • Kudumbashree was conceived as a joint programme of the Government of Kerala and Nabard implemented through Community Development Societies (CDSs) of Poor Women, serving as the community wing of Local Governments.

7. As carbon dioxide levels rise, India faces big crop nutrition deficiency: study

  1. According to a study led by the Harvard T H Chan School of Public Health, India could be the country worst hit by the falling crop quality the world over due to rising carbon dioxide levels
  2. The study estimates that 50 million more people in India — the largest number anywhere in the world — could face zinc, iron and protein deficiency due to dipping crop quality

Findings from the study

  1. The study estimated that the world over, 175 million people could become zinc-deficient and 122 million protein-deficient by 2050 due to rising levels of carbon dioxide from human activity, which is making staple crops such as rice and wheat less nutritious
  2. It also found that more than 1 billion women and children could lose a large amount of their dietary iron intake, putting them at increased risk of anemia and other diseases

Why these changes?

  1. Humans tend to get a majority of key nutrients from plants: 63 per cent of dietary protein comes from vegetable sources, as well as 81 per cent of iron and 68 per cent zinc
  2. It has been shown that higher atmospheric levels of CO2 result in less nutritious crop yields
  3. Concentrations of protein, iron, and zinc are 3 percent to 17 percent lower when crops are grown in environments where CO2 concentrations are 550 parts per million (ppm), compared with crops grown under current atmospheric conditions, in which CO2 levels are just above 400 ppm

Malnutrition in children still a challenge

  1. According to National Family Health Survey-4, 38.4 per cent Indian children are stunted (low height for age), 21 per cent are wasted (low weight for height), 7.5 percent are severely wasted, and 35.7 per cent underweight
  2. Despite significant progress in reducing the rate of underweight children since 1990, Indian children still have the fourth worst global weight-for-age scores (the standard measure for underweight)
  3. Nearly 35% of Indian children continue to meet the criteria for being underweight, far above the developing country average of 20%

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