TABLE OF CONTENTS
A. GS1 Related B. GS2 Related INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS 1. U.S. tightens norms for issuing H-1B visas 2. Concerned about new Indian tariffs, says U.S. official 3. Leaders break ground on Afghan section of TAPI POLITY 2. Frame a law to oversee auditors, SC tells govt. GOVERNANCE 2. Govt. behind delay in posting of HC judges: SC C. GS3 Related D. GS4 Related E. Editorials INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS 1. India and Iran - President Hassan Rouhani’s visit ECONOMY 1. Canary in coal mine 2. Grid stability F. Prelims Fact G. UPSC Prelims Practice Questions H. UPSC Mains Practice Questions
A. GS1 Related
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B. GS2 Related
1. U.S. tightens norms for issuing H-1B visas
- The agency said the petitioner will need to show that, the petitioner has a specific work assignment in place for the beneficiary; the petition is properly supported by a Labor Condition Application (LCA) that corresponds to such work; and the actual work to be performed by the H-1B beneficiary will be in a specialty occupation based on the work requirements imposed by the end-client who uses the beneficiary’s services.
- The USCIS said the updated policy guidance aligns with President Donald Trump’s Buy American, Hire American guideline to protect the interests of U.S. workers.
- Employment-based petitioners who circumvent the worker protections outlined in the nation’s immigration laws not only injure U.S. workers (e.g., their wages and job opportunities), but also the foreign workers for whom they are petitioning.
- The memorandum said while the USICS acknowledged third-party arrangements as a legitimate and frequently used business model, it had noticed significant violations, such as paying less than the required wage, benching employees (not paying workers the required wage while they wait for projects) and having employees perform non-specialty occupation jobs — may be more likely to occur when petitioners place employees at third-party worksites.
- India’s top software industry lobby group Nasscom said while the new norms were unlikely to significantly impact its member companies businesses, it would add to the red tape they face in the U.S.
2. Concerned about new Indian tariffs, says U.S. official
- The Donald Trump administration has moved the U.S. closer to India than any previous administration on strategic issues, but disagreements on commercial issues remain challenging, according to a senior administration official. The official told The Hindu that the recent union budget might “make it more challenging”.
- Trump mentioned high tariffs on high-end motorcycles in India recently. Trade figures in the last quarters has reported a reduction in the imbalance, which is likely because of the energy import by India from the U.S.
- The official said trade issues would be discussed during the trade policy forum in June between the two countries. According to the official, these commercial disagreements are playing up at a time when the strategic cooperation between the two countries has reached an unprecedented level. The official pointed out that no other country finds as many position mentions as India does in the Trump administration’s National Security Strategy (NSS), on dealing with South Asia and Indo-Pacific. The official said the administration has taken a long-term view on China, and this will not be susceptible to any short-term compromises.
- The NSS is very clear on this administration’s view on China, which is a long-term view. It is clear about how we assert values that we share with India — freedom of navigation, rule of law, transparency, financing of infrastructure projects, resolution of disputes, etc. It is a long-term vision and the U.S. has been forthright in asserting that vision, noting that the recent revival of the Quad dialogue is a tangle outcome of this approach.
- Defence cooperation is a very important part of the relationship, and the administration is “looking to move forward on Sea Guardian” drone negotiations, the official said. The U.S. is willing to do much more with India on defence, the official said, seeking more cooperation from India. “….to do that we need India to cooperate.
3. Leaders break ground on Afghan section of TAPI
- Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India on Friday ceremonially broke ground on the Afghan section of an ambitious, multi-billion dollar gas pipeline expected to help ease energy deficits in South Asia.
- Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and Turkmen counterpart Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov joined Pakistani premier Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and India’s Minister of State for External Affairs M. J. Akbar for the ceremony at gas-rich Turkmenistan’s border with Afghanistan.
- The quartet aims to complete the 1,840 km pipeline and begin pumping natural gas from Turkmenistan’s giant Galkynysh gas field by the beginning of 2020.
- While the pipeline will traverse war-wracked Afghanistan, raising security concerns, the bulk of the 33 billion cubic metres of gas to be pumped annually through the conduit will be purchased by Pakistan and India.
- India’s commitment to the pipeline has previously been questioned over its relationship with Pakistan and easy-access to liquified natural gas markets seen as potential stumbling blocks.
1. Frame a law to oversee auditors, SC tells govt.
- The Supreme Court on Friday directed the government to frame a law to regulate the auditing profession, saying “failures of auditors have resulted in scandals in the past.”
- In a judgment, a Bench of Justices A.K. Goel and U.U. Lalit highlighted the manner in which multi-national accounting firms violate auditing and financial laws.
- The apex court said these firms comply with Indian laws and code of ethics only in form and not in substance.
- The judgment came on a petition filed by the Centre for Public Interest Litigation seeking an investigation into PricewaterhouseCoopers Private Limited (PwCPL) and their network audit firms operating in India for alleged violations of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) policy, the Reserve Bank of India Act (RBI) and the Foreign Exchange Management Act.
- The petitioner said how “Pricewater House, Bangalore, was the auditor of the erstwhile Satyam Computer Services Limited (Satyam) for more than eight years but failed to discover the biggest accounting scandal which came to light only on confession of its Chairman in January 2009.”
- The apex court directed the Centre to constitute a three-member committee of experts within two months to frame a law for an oversight mechanism over auditors.
1. Govt. behind delay in posting of HC judges: SC
- The government is inordinately delaying the appointment of judges to High Courts, the Supreme Court observed in a judgment delivered on Friday.
- At a time when judicial vacancies in the 24 High Courts remain at an all-time high, the Supreme Court passed scathing remarks in a 31-page judgment on how the government keeps names forwarded by the judiciary pending for an “unduly long time.” There are a total of 403 judicial vacancies in the High Courts.
HCs too blamed
- Equally at fault are the High Courts for the present quandary, the verdict by a Bench of Justices A.K. Sikri and Ashok Bhushan said.
- Instead of sending the fresh names to the government for vetting a month prior to an anticipated judicial vacancy, the names are sent late or not sent at all.
- In case the fresh names are sent to the government, the files are kept pending at the Executive level for long before they are sent to the Supreme Court Collegium for approval along with the government’s inputs on the names proposed.
- Even after the clearance of the names by the Collegium, these remain pending at the level of the Executive. All this results in inordinate delay. Sometimes, it takes more than one year to complete the process from the date of forwarding the names till appointment.
- As a result, the careers and tenures of future High Court judges recommended by the Supreme Court Collegium are invariably cut short because of the delay, the court said.
- The court was hearing a challenge to the appointment of two retired district judges as Additional Judges of the Rajasthan High Court.
- Their names were recommended by the Rajasthan Chief Justice in February 2016, while they were still in judicial service. However, the appointment process took over a year to complete in May 2017, and they had already retired by that time.
C. GS3 Related
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D. GS4 Related
Nothing here for today!!!
1.India and Iran – President Hassan Rouhani’s visit
- Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s visit this month was a subdued affair compared to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Tehran last May.
- The reason is the differing preoccupations in both countries. The future of the Iran- P5+1-European Union (EU) nuclear deal (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA), concluded in 2015, has a Damocles’ sword hanging over it, given U.S. President Donald Trump’s visceral opposition to it.
- In addition, Iran is focussed on developments in Syria and Yemen.
- For India, dealing with China’s growing footprint in the Indo-Pacific and challenges in its immediate SAARC neighbourhood assume priority..
- It was geography that created the 2,000 years of cultural and civilisational connect that Mr. Modi had sought to highlight during his visit last year.
- During the 1950-60s, differences persisted on account of the Shah’s pro-U.S. tilt, and after the 1979 revolution, it was the pro-Pakistan tilt.
- It was only during the late 1990s and the early years of the last decade that both countries achieved a degree of strategic convergence. India and Iran together with Russia cooperated in supporting the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan against the expanding role of the Pakistan-backed Taliban.
- In 2003, President Mohammad Khatami was the chief guest at the Republic Day when the New Delhi Declaration was signed, flagging the role of Chabahar port in providing connectivity to Afghanistan and further into Central Asia.
- The U.S. declared Iran as part of the ‘axis of evil’, as President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad accelerated Iran’s nuclear enrichment programme leading to progressively more sanctions, and India’s economic engagement with Iran was impacted.
- Simultaneously, India was pursuing its nuclear deal with the U.S. which was concluded in 2008. During this period, India’s vote against Iran in the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) generated unhappiness in Tehran. This is why it has taken 15 years for another Iranian presidential visit.
- With Mr. Trump, Iran’s uncertainties are increasing. The JCPOA, spearheaded by the Obama administration, eased sanctions, helping India increase its oil imports from Iran and reactivate work at Chabahar.
- In January, President Trump renewed the 120-day sanctions waiver but announced that this was the last time he was extending it. Therefore, when the current waiver ends on May 12, U.S. sanctions on Iran will snap back unless a new agreement is reached. This is highly unlikely.
Uncertainties of JCPOA
- The JCPOA is not a bilateral deal between Iran and the U.S.; other parties are China, France, Germany, Russia, the U.K., and the EU.
- Further, the JCPOA was unanimously supported by the United Nations Security Council (Resolution 2231) enabling Security Council sanctions to be lifted.
- The problem is that the U.S. has imposed multiple and often overlapping sanctions on Iran pertaining not only to nuclear activities but also to missile testing, human rights, and terrorism.
- To give effect to Resolution 2231, it was obliged to lift secondary nuclear sanctions so that other countries could resume commercial activities with Iran.
- The threat of the U.S. snapback means that third country companies may now attract U.S. sanctions. This uncertainty has been adversely impacting the sanctions relief since Mr. Trump’s election.
- The unrest that erupted in December in Mashhad and that spread to many cities in Iran claiming more than 20 lives was a reaction to rising prices amidst stories of growing corruption.
- Part of the reason for the economic grievances is the slower than promised sanctions relief, which would imply that Mr. Rouhani is in no position to offer any further concessions.
- Russia, China, and the European countries have indicated their full support for the JCPOA. However, in the absence of economic countermeasures, which is a lever that only the EU and China have, Mr. Trump is unlikely to be deterred.
- While many European countries may also like to constrain Iran’s missile and regional activities, the fact is that the JCPOA is exclusively about restraints on Iran’s nuclear activities.
- According to them, only successful implementation of the JCPOA over a period of time can create the political space for additional negotiations; destroying the JCPOA is hardly the way to build upon it.
Outcomes of the visit
- Meanwhile, Iran has also increased its role in Iraq, and activated links with the Taliban in Afghanistan, adding to the U.S.’s growing impatience and unhappiness.
- With these developments, it is hardly surprising that Mr. Modi’s characteristic ‘diplohugs’ were missing and the outcome has been modest, even compared to last year.
- India conveyed its support for the full and effective implementation of the JCPOA, the need for strengthening consultations on Afghanistan, and enhancing regional connectivity by building on the Chabahar.
- Nine MoUs were signed relating to avoidance of double taxation, visa simplification, cooperation in diverse fields including agriculture, traditional systems of medicine, health and medicine, postal cooperation, trade remedial measures, and a lease contract for an interim period of 18 months for Phase 1 of Chabahar.
- The last is a move forward after the inauguration of the first phase of the Chabahar port in December by Mr. Rouhani. Earlier in October, Iran had allowed a wheat shipment of 15,000 tonnes for Afghanistan through Chahbahar.
- However, there has been little forward movement on the big projects that were highlighted when Mr. Modi visited Tehran last year. The negotiations on the Farzad-B gas field remain stuck, with both sides blaming the other for shifting the goalposts.
- Understanding on it was reached during the sanction period but remained on paper because of Iranian unhappiness over India’s stand in the IAEA.
- These were reopened after sanctions relief kicked in post-JCPOA when more countries showed interest.
- There was talk about an aluminium smelter plant and a urea plant to build up Indian investments in the Chabahar free trade zone which in turn would catalyse port activity and justify railway connectivity out of Chabahar.
- The railway link has been mentioned in the context of connectivity to Afghanistan but the economic rationale for the $2 billion investment has been missing.
- One positive thing is the exploration of a rupee-rial arrangement which could provide an alternative channel for economic and commercial transactions in case U.S. sanctions do kick in, making dollar denominated transactions impossible.
- However, the sanctity of this will need to be tested before private parties on both sides begin to use it. So far, trade between the two countries has hovered around $10 billion, with two-thirds of it accounted for in terms of oil imports from Iran.
- It is clear, therefore, that both countries approached the visit with modest expectations.
- The near-term developments in its neighbourhood are a priority for Tehran even as Mr. Modi tries to find a balance with his stated preference to develop closer ties with both the U.S. and Israel.
- The uncertainties surrounding the JCPOA provide the justification for adopting a ‘wait and watch’ approach.
1. Canary in coal mine
- Forty-five years after India nationalised its coal-mining industry, the Central government has allowed the re-entry of commercial mining firms into the sector, turning the clock back.
- India’s coal industry was predominantly driven by the private sector after Independence until the Indira Gandhi government decided to transfer all coal holdings to Coal India through the Coal Mines (Nationalisation) Act, 1973.
- The key reason cited for taking coal out of the private sector’s hands was that it was essential to meet power needs.
- Now, India’s coal market is a virtual monopoly for the public sector behemoth. Coal India accounts for over 80% of the country’s coal supply.
- Another public sector firm, Singareni Collieries Company, and some captive coal mines allotted to private players for specific end-uses such as in the steel and power industries, account for the rest.
- Opening up commercial mining and sale of coal for private players is an overdue reform.
- India has a high dependence on coal for power generation. Despite an aggressive push for renewable and nuclear sources, 70% of electricity generation is through coal-fired thermal plants.
- In recent years there has been a significant surge in imports as Coal India, despite its rich coal-bearing belts and increased output, is unable to keep pace with demand from new power plants.
- To be sure, the NDA government has moved swiftly to fix the mess it inherited from the UPA, especially irregularities in allocation.
- In September 2014, the Supreme Court cancelled the allocation of 204 coal mines to public and private players, after the Comptroller and Auditor General of India found fault with the allocation mechanism.
- An ordinance was brought in quickly and a transparent auction process was evolved for the affected mines, benefiting from lessons learnt from the telecom spectrum allocation mess.
- The intention was to ensure that there are no supply shocks for power producers on account of abrupt disruptions in mining operations.
- Enabling provisions for commercial mining and sale of coal were already included in the Coal Mines (Special Provisions) Act of 2015; the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs has now allowed their operationalisation by clearing the methodology to be followed for auctioning rights.
- The government says the move will boost energy security, making coal affordable and creating jobs. To ascertain the quality of outcomes, it will be important to see which blocks are actually offered to private players; they should not just be the mines Coal India isn’t keen on.
- Norms to ensure miners’ safety must be upgraded. Lastly, the integrity of the process is key, so that auctions don’t translate into a winners’ curse as has happened in sectors like telecom. The import-dependent energy sector cannot afford it.
2. Grid stability
- Electricity is a major concern in rural India, especially for farmers. The Government of India has come up with an original plan to address this problem.
- Instead of transmitting electricity to the farmers, the government, to start with, wants farmers to use solar energy to power their irrigation pumps.
- According to the January 2018 report of the Council on Energy, Environment and Water, there are about 142,000 solar pumps in India. The government is planning to install one million solar pumps by 2021.
- To achieve this, the Union Budget 2018 has allocated close to Rs. 48,000 crore to set up the Kisan Urja Suraksha evam Utthaan Mahabhiyan (KUSUM).
- This programme will help set up more than 28 GW of combined solar capacity through these solar pumps. Additionally, to ensure optimal use of this solar energy, and to incentivise farmers to shift to renewable energy, the government plans to purchase the surplus power through electricity distribution companies.
- This proposal will almost certainly increase agricultural incomes and reduce electricity losses when transmitting power to remote rural areas.
- Analysts claim that losses from distribution could fall to about 12% from the current level of at least 23%. However, the feasibility of purchasing surplus solar power seems problematic. There is a need to address the issue of grid stability that this injection of surplus power is bound to create.
- The advantage of this scheme is that transmission losses and power theft would drop significantly. Most rural retailers of power also lose money as they sell power at a subsidised rate to the poor and the farm sector.
- The state-run distribution companies were thus running a loss of Rs. 4.3 trillion as of September 2015. Local generation of power in the manner proposed would take care of the above issues.
- This is an issue that is often neglected. All power grids require balancing. This balancing entails meeting the demand with adequate supply 24×7 to ensure there is no blackout.
- The reason for striking this balance is that electrical energy cannot readily be stored, meaning that power generation ought to work round the clock.
- These electrical gridlines were created to depend on reliable and controllable generators (coal, oil and even hydroelectric).
- However, with more and more power being generated through fluctuating power generators (solar and wind), a more precise balance will have to be created, which may cause more failures.
- Take the example of solar panels that farmers use. These panels will only generate electricity during daylight hours, so to maintain a consistent round-the-clock power delivery the grid operators will need to have a back-up source of power in the form of coal or oil.
- During the day as well, they will have to be ready to quickly adjust output to compensate for the rise and fall of solar power generation due to changing weather and rain.
- Output from solar panels can also change due to clouds. Variations in weather patterns make it more difficult for the grid operator to predict the balance of electrical energy that will be required to meet the demand.
- Because wind and solar power sources constantly generate shortfalls and excesses, the grid operators send a signal to power plants every few seconds to ensure that the total amount of power demand at the grid is consistently equal to the total power supply.
- Most countries handle inputs from renewable energy sources similarly. But India is short of power.
- Thus, while other nations see solar and wind power as an energy management problem, India also sees this as a capacity management problem.
- Because of India’s sheer size, the variability factor considerably increases: if some areas have low consumption, others are likely to have high consumption.
- More stability can be achieved by integrating the grids into all-India grids. Expected advances in storage technology would also significantly improve grid stability.
- The plan of the Government of India to purchase solar power from farmers has nevertheless taken off on a good note.
- In the Union Budget 2018, the Finance Minister asked governments to put in place adequate procedures to purchase the excess solar power from farmers. This sale of excess power has also discouraged overutilisation of groundwater.
F. Prelims Fact
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G. Practice Questions for UPSC Prelims Exam
Question 1. Consider the following statements:
- H1B is a work visa in U.S
- H4 Visa is an inter-transfer work visa.
- L1B is a visa for dependent of H1B visa holder.
Which of the above statements are correct?
- 1 and 2 only
- 1 and 3 only
- 2 and 3 only
- 1 only
Question 2. Consider the following statements:
- FATF is an inter-governmental body to combat money laundering and terror financing
- It maintains grey and black lists to identify countries with weak measures
Which of the above statements are correct?
- 1 only
- 2 only
- Both 1 and 2
- Neither 1 nor 2
Question 3. Consider the following statements:
- Trans-Afghanistan Pipeline is a natural gas pipeline being developed by the Asian Development Bank.
- India has to pay a transit fee to Pakistan and Iran as the pipeline passes through these nations.
Which of the above statements are correct?
- 1 only
- 2 only
- Both 1 and 2
- Neither 1 nor 2
H. UPSC Mains Practice Questions
General Studies II
- What is soft power? How is it different from hard power? Illustrate with examples.
- Minimum Government Maximum Governance is a mere slogan as that lacks maximum governance. Critically comment.
Also, check previous Daily News Analysis
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