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Sunday, March 7, 2010

Current Affairs: December 2009


CURRENT NATIONAL AFFAIRS
DEFENCE
Army doctrine being reviewed
The Army’s military doctrine is being reviewed and it will now include an added thrust in five key areas that will propel the doctrine. This includes wars in faraway lands, besides strategy on how to face future challenges posed by China and Pakistan.

The key areas include preparation for a two-pronged war with China and Pakistan. Both countries will have to be looked at separately and also collectively. The nature of conflict, if ever, with both countries will vary greatly in terms of terrain and use of weapons and fire-power.

The Army, which is involved in fighting insurgency in J&K and the North-East, is also looking to optimise capabilities to fight asymmetric war waged by both State and non-State actors, such as terror attacks and proxy wars. This will include cyber and electronic warfare.

The doctrine will look at ways to enhance the strategic reach of the Army and joint operations with the Navy and the Air Force. Countries like the USA already have airborne division while China has capability of rapid induction of troops. The reviewed doctrine will also touch upon space-based capability and methods to achieve technological edge over the enemy. The doctrine is reviewed every five years by the Army’s Shimla-based Training Command.

PLANNING & ECONOMY
13th Finance Commission Report
The 13th Finance Commission, which makes recommendations on sharing of tax revenues by the Centre and States, has suggested a new path for fiscal prudence in its report submitted to President Pratibha Devi Singh Patil on December 30, 2009.

The Commission was headed by Vijay Kelkar. Other members of the Commission were B.K. Chaturvedi, Indira Rajaraman, Atul Sarma and Sanjiv Misra.

The government had consigned the Fiscal Responsibility and Budget Management (FRBM), the self-imposed fiscal prudence guidelines, to the back-burner in 2008 when it stepped up official spending beyond its means in order to insulate the economy from the global financial meltdown. The country’s fiscal deficit, a reflection of government borrowings, is estimated to touch 6.8 per cent in 2009-10, up from 6.2 per cent in the previous fiscal, mainly on account of the stimulus measures.

The recommendations of the 13th Finance Commission, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee said “would get reflected in the 2010-11 Budget”.
The report, Kelkar said, dealt with the sharing of tax revenue between the Centre and States, distribution of funds among States and support to local bodies. The Finance Commission report assumes significance in view of the ongoing reforms in indirect and direct taxes, which will have a bearing on the tax collections.

Currently, the States and Union Territories get Rs 1.64 lakh crore in a year, or around 30 per cent of the shareable taxes collected by the Centre. The 12th Finance Commission had recommended that 30.5 per cent of the shareable Central taxes should be shared among the States and Union Territories. The shareable central taxes include corporation tax, income tax, wealth tax, customs, excise duty and service tax.

Among other things, the Commission has suggested steps to deal with the growing off-budget expenditure, especially, oil bonds. The report is based on the 2008-09 tax collections and does not talk on post-GST scenario. However, implementation of the new indirect tax regime in 2010 would not be a concern as suggestions are based on revenue neutral rates.

China’s iron ore find can hit India’s exports
China has found a one-billion tonne iron ore deposit, which is the biggest discovery of the mineral since 1980’s. This is bound to cause some worries in India as iron ore accounts for nearly half of Indian exports to China.
  
The latest discovery is a 6-km long deposit with thickness ranging between 41.43 and 108.95 meters. It lies 100 to 600 meters deep underground in Luannan County in the northern province of Hebei.

It will be some time before the new deposit will begin to yield iron ore, but the discovery will definitely enable China to make long-term plans on steel production and strengthen its hands in price negotiations. The discovery gives a new boost to China’s ongoing efforts to reduce its dependence on major world suppliers and avoid getting caught in price fluctuations of the spot market. Indian suppliers mostly deal in the spot market and refuse to enter into long-term supply contracts. 

EDUCATION
Scholarship scheme for minority students
The Union government has launched the Maulana Abul Kalam Azad National Fellowship Scheme for minority students and another one to computerise State Wakf Boards.

Under the scheme, 756 fellowships (30 per cent to be reserved for women) will be offered per year to minority students wishing to pursue higher studies. The objective is to grant integrated five-year fellowships in form of financial assistance to students from minority communities as notified by the Central government to pursue MPhil and PhD.

The scheme will cover all universities or institutions recognised by the UGC under Section 2 (f) and Section 3 of the UGC Act and will be implemented by the Ministry of Minority Affairs through UGC for students belonging to minorities.

The fellowships will be on the pattern of UGC fellowships awarded to research students pursuing regular and full time MPhil and PhD courses. Holders of the new fellowship will be called MoMA scholars.

ELECTIONS
Soren forms government in Jharkhand
Jharkhand Mukti Morcha chief Shibu Soren has been elected as the Chief Minister of Jharkhand after successful conclusion of the
Assembly pools in December 2009. The JMM, which won 18 seats, garnered the support of the BJP-JD(U), the All Jharkhand Students Union and Jharkhand Janadhikar Manch led by Bandhu Tirkey, taking up the tally to 44 MLAs in a house of 80.

The BJP won 18 seats and the JD(U) 2 seats, All Jharkhand Students Union has 5 MLAs and the Jharkhand Janadhikar Manch has one MLA.

The decision by JMM to enter into a coalition with the BJP-JD(U) combine brought to a close the hectic lobbying that marked the three days since the Jharkhand elections threw up a hung Assembly.
   
The Congress attacked the post-poll alliance between the BJP and the JMM as “the high point of unprincipled and unethical politics”. “Till yesterday, Arun Jaitley and BJP were crying hoarse about Shibu Soren’s criminal past but today they have no compunction about aligning with a man who is being tried in three murder cases, including one which is coming up for hearing as early as January 5, 2010,” party spokesman Manish Tewari said.

This is the third time the Mr Soren has occupied the post of Jharkhand Chief Minister. As per the ministry-sharing formula worked out among the alliance partners, JMM and BJP will have five ministers each in the team while AJSU will have a quota of two. BJP, which has also been allowed to have its own man as the Assembly Speaker, has decided to part with one ministerial berth from its share for its alliance partner JD(U).

Mr Soren, who was a Lok Sabha member before taking over as the Chief Minister, will have to become an MLA within six months. Wiser from the humiliation suffered in January 2009, when he had to quit the post after losing the by-election to the Tamar seat, the JMM chief is likely to enter the fray from his family backyard Dumka. His son Hemant, had won the constituency in the Assembly polls, is likely to vacate the seat in favour of his father, and retain the Rajya Sabha membership.
   
Jharkhand Assembly ‘Safe Haven’ For Criminals
The politician-criminal nexus in India is alive and kicking. Proof of this was provided by the profile of the newly elected MLAs in Jharkhand. As many as 31 of the 45 legislators backing the JMM-BJP-AJSU coalition government have criminal cases pending against them.

Its not just the ruling coalition which is afflicted with this malaise. The Opposition benches in the State too have several MLAs with criminal antecedents, making it clear that the process of criminalisation of politics is proceeding unhindered. Chief Minister Shibu Soren, who had to quit the Union Council of Ministers a few years ago after being convicted in a murder case, leads the contingent. Besides him, 16 of the 18 JMM MLAs have criminal cases against them. The only party MLA who starts with a clean slate is Sita Soren, daughter-in-law of Mr Shibu Soren and widow of the late Durga Soren.

BJP and AJSU have eight and four MLAs, respectively, with criminal cases against them. One JD(U) legislator and the lone JJM legislator Bandhu Tirkey also has criminal cases against him. Mr Tirkey, a former minister, in fact, is presently languishing in jail as he’s one of the key accused in the great Jharkhand loot undertaken by the Madhu Koda government.

JMM’s Dumri MLA Jagannath Mahato has been booked in 14 criminal cases while Mr Shibu Soren’s son Hemant has six cases against him.

BJP’s Jharkhand unit president Raghubar Das also has criminal cases against him while C.P. Singh, the fourth-term MLA from Ranchi, has nine cases against him.
   
As many as 11 of the 14 Congress MLAs also have cases against them, while eight JVM (P) and four RJD MLAs have cases lodged against them.

Gujarat Assembly passes mandatory voting Bill
The Gujarat Assembly has passed a landmark Bill which makes, for the first time in the country, voting mandatory in local body polls. The Gujarat Local Authorities Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2009, which also seeks to raise the reservation of seats for women in local self governance bodies from 33 to 50 per cent, was passed by voice vote. Under the Bill, if a voter fails to vote for the reasons other than prescribed in the rules, he may be declared a “defaulter voter” and would face consequences for which rules will be framed and placed before the Assembly for its approval later.

LEGISLATION
Authors can now claim royalty
Authors of musical, cinematographic and literary works may now be entitled to royalty in case their works are used for commercial purposes, a benefit denied to them so far. This can be possible because of certain amendments in the Copyright Act of 1957, which has been approved by the Union Cabinet for introduction in Parliament.

The amendment is proposed to give independent rights to authors of literary and musical works in cinematography of films, which were hitherto denied and wrongfully exploited by producers and music companies.

Another amendment ensures that the authors of the works, particularly songs included in the cinematography of films or sound recordings, receive royalty for commercial exploitation of such work.

The News Broadcasters Association had been apprehensive about the amendments and asked the government to ensure that nothing was done to hurt the “well-established and understood rights of broadcasters to fair use of material, including broadcast reproduction rights”.

POLITICAL
Advani steps down as Leader of Opposition
The curtain came down on L.K. Advani’s tenure as Leader of Opposition in Lok Sabha on December 18, 2009. And while he made way for Sushma Swaraj, the 82-year-old veteran BJP leader said he saw a new chapter opening in his political career.
   
After a meeting of BJP parliamentary party amended its constitution, Advani was elected chairman, a post that has been created for him. The assembled party MPs then elected Swaraj as leader of the party in LS, the first woman to hold the post in BJP.

The next act in the generational change was played out on December 19, when Rajnath Singh stepped down as BJP President and Maharashtra unit chief Nitin Gadkari took charge. The change of guard completed a process that had been in the works since the party lost its bid for power in 2009 national elections.
   
Sushma Swaraj, at 57, clearly marks a generational change as does 52-year-old Gadkari. Advani is expected to play a role as mentor and the amended constitution says he will appoint the two leaders of Opposition.

Nitin Gadkari is the youngest BJP president. His elevation marks the culmination of the exercise to effect a generational shift at the top in the party hierarchy—both in its organisational and parliamentary wings.

Mr Gadkari assumes his new responsibility at a very crucial time. After tasting defeat in a series of electoral battles, cadre morale is low. The party was also bogged down by a debilitating infighting among the so-called second generation leaders. The BJP has also failed to keep pace with the changing times, and lost the trust of the youth and the burgeoning urban middle class in the process.
   
Mr Gadkari, who hails from Nagpur and over the years cultivated the image of an honest, hard-working leader who has toiled his way to the top, thus has task cut out.

FOREIGN RELATIONS
India-Bangladesh pacts to tackle terrorism
On December 2, 2009, India expressed its gratitude to Bangladesh for taking speedy action to foil a conspiracy by the LeT to attack the Indian mission in Dhaka recently as the two countries finalised three key agreements to combat terrorism. The agreements were signed during the visit of Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to New Delhi.

The two sides arrived at an agreement on: Mutual legal assistance in criminal matters, combating international terrorism, organised crime and illicit drug trafficking; and agreement on transfer of sentenced persons. However, the two sides have not yet been able to resolve differences over a bilateral extradition treaty.

The finalisation of the three accords marks a major confidence-building measure (CBM) to address the issue of Indian insurgents taking shelter in Bangladesh, which had marred ties between the two nations in recent years. New Delhi, however, is quite happy over the manner in which the Sheikh Hasina government has been cooperating with it in checking the activities of these insurgents.

Visit of Bhutanese King
Increasing the pace of cooperation in the hydro-power sector, India and Bhutan have signed four agreements to conduct technical surveys for hydro-power projects. The four MoUs related to the hydro-power sector were part of 12 agreements that were signed after discussions between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and visiting Bhutanese King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, who was on his first foreign visit in December 2009, since his coronation in 2008.
   
India and Bhutan have decided to prepare detailed project reports for the Kuri Gongri, Chamkharchhu-1 and Kholongchhu hydro-power projects and Amochu reservoir project. The Kuri Gongri project is proposed to generate 1,800-mw power, the Chamkharchhu-1 670 mw and the Kholongchhu 670 mw. Further, the two sides have also agreed to conclude implementation agreements for Punatsangchhu-2 project
   
Bhutan uses 400 mw and has an installed capacity of 1,500 mw of power. The entire surplus comes to India which is helping Bhutan increase its capacity to 10,000 mw till 2020.

Apart from the MoUs on the hydro-power projects, the two sides also signed eight other agreements in areas ranging from agriculture to health to civil aviation. The two sides also signed an agreement to set up the Bhutan Institute of Medical Sciences in Thimphu and an agreement on an IT project, which plans to make nearly half of Bhutan’s population e-literate.

Visit of Japanese Prime Minister
Prime Minister Yokio Hatoyama of Japan visited New Delhi in end-December 2009. During the high-level talks, Japan urged India to sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), but Prime Minister Manmohan Singh put the onus for its ratification on China and the US.

The issues of nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation were discussed with both sides agreeing to the need for an early start to the Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty negotiations. But on the issue of the non-proliferation treaty both sides agreed that there was a difference of perception. Mr Singh reiterated that India is “deeply interested in working with Japan and other like-minded countries to promote the cause of universal, verifiable and non-discriminatory disarmament”.
   
Even though Mr Singh highlighted India’s “impeccable record” in non-proliferation and explained the country’s nuclear history, the Japanese Prime Minister remained non-committal on civilian nuclear cooperation between India and Japan. Keeping the matter pending, Mr Hatoyama said nuclear energy would be an item on the agenda for future discussions.
   
In the absence of an agreement on nuclear cooperation, the Japanese Prime Minister, however, indicated that Japan is willing to relax restrictions on hi-tech trade and said there was a “positive conclusion” on the issue of hi-tech trade. During talks, Mr Singh assured his Japanese counterpart that Indian companies would not divert hi-tech imports from Japan for weapon’s purposes or to a third country and sought liberalisation in this area.

The economic partnership, however, remained the “bedrock” of relationship, with both sides discussing a range of economic issues, including Japanese investment and trade agreement. The two Prime Ministers have decided to push their negotiators to expedite negotiations into the comprehensive economic partnership agreement.
Mr Hatoyama pointed out that bilateral trade between India and Japan is far less than that between Japan and China. Mr Singh, however, said he had conveyed to the Japanese Prime Minister that India welcomes Japanese investments into the country and pointed out that India’s growing economy offers huge opportunities for Japan.

The two sides also discussed the liberalisation of visa regime on both sides, with the Japanese Prime Minister raising the issue saying that it was important as there were several major projects being undertaken in India for the benefit of both countries.

The two leaders also vowed to push for an early conclusion of an economic partnership agreement to scale up trade and investment and cooperate on a range of global issues, including the UN reforms, climate change and nuclear disarmament

India, Japan sign agreements on Rs 360-kcr DMIC project: India and Japan signed two agreements on December 28, 2009 for implementing the ambitious Rs 3,60,000-crore Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor (DMIC) project that seeks to create integrated investment regions and industrial areas across six States. The agreements include collaborating in the development of eco-cities, that is cities that are environmentally and ecologically sustainable, along the corridor and setting up of a project development fund to undertake activities like master planning and feasibility studies, preparing project reports and obtaining approvals and bid process management for projects.

The Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor Development Cooperation has signed the memorandum of understanding with Jetro (in cooperation with Japan Bank for International Cooperation) for facilitating collaboration between Japanese and Indian companies from environment-related sectors and providing expertise in development and promotion of DMIC projects.
   
The DMIC project development fund will be set up with equal contribution from the governments of India and Japan. India has approved a grant of Rs 330 crore (approximately $75 million) as the country’s contribution. The Japanese component of $75 million is being provided in the form of untied loan from JBIC.

Visit of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to Russia
On December 7, 2009, during the visit of Prime Minister Manmohan singh to Moscow, relations between India and Russia experienced more than a thaw on a range of interests encompassing N-trade, shared Af-Pak perceptions and a plan to boost commerce to $20 billion by 2015.

The discussions between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Russian President Dmitri Medvedev yielded a rich cache of agreements which included establishing a credit line of $100 million and a nuclear agreement that allows India to reprocess fuel and virtually guarantees unhindered supply of nuclear fuel.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, after signing a crucial nuclear deal with Russia, said there would be an addition to the two reactors being developed at Kudankulam in Tamil Nadu, while a site was being considered at Haripur in West Bengal.
   
Meanwhile, Russian President Medvedev stressed that Moscow did not support any addition to the club of N-weapon States, which has implications on the country’s position in Iran, and that N-weapons should not be "held hostage to terror", in a fairly direct reference to Pakistan.
   
Medvedev also made it clear that the G-8 statement at La Aquila did not impact on ENR (enrichment and nuclear reprocessing) related agreements with India.
   
The continuing global slowdown and a decline in oil prices have made Russia more open to reaching out to an old friend while the change of guard in US has seen India reaffirm ties, with Singh describing Russia as a “global world power”. The two nations also share concerns over the rise of China.

With the meeting with Medvedev having set the mood, Manmohan Singh’s interaction with Prime Minister Putin, still very much the “real” power centre in Moscow, saw a detailed exchange of assessments.

The two sides signed a total of six agreements but the Russians were clearly pleased with the civil nuclear cooperation pact. The reactors, which cost about $1.5 billion each, will certainly be welcome for a Russian economy that is simply not doing too well.

India and Russia signed a path-breaking broad-based agreement in civil nuclear field that will ensure transfer of technology and uninterrupted uranium fuel supplies to its nuclear reactors and inked three pacts in the defence sector.

The Indo-Russian pact on atomic cooperation is a significant document and goes much further than the 123 agreement between India and the US. The pact also has provisions for transfer of enrichment and nuclear technology, which is denied in the 123 agreement with the US.

The two countries also reviewed their cooperation in the United Nations and in multilateral fora and their role towards successful conclusion of the Copenhagen Summit on climate change.

RESERVATIONS
Ranganath Commission report on Religious and Linguistic Minorities
Two years after it was submitted to the government, report of the National Commission on Religious and Linguistic Minorities is ready to be tabled in the Parliament.

Constituted to assess the status of minorities and suggest ways of improving their lot, the Commission, headed by Justice Ranganath Misra, has recommended 15 per cent reservation in non-minority educational institutions and Central and State government jobs for all religious and linguistic minorities.

Out of the 15 per cent earmarked seats in education institutions, Muslims should be given 10 per cent reservation (commensurate with their 73 per cent share in the total minority population in India) and the remaining 5 per cent to other minorities, states the report.

It adds that if Muslim candidates are not available to fill 10 per cent seats, the remaining vacancies should go to other minorities and in “no case to the majority community.”On employment front, the report argues that since the minorities, especially Muslims, are much under-represented in government jobs, “we recommend they should be regarded as backward in this respect within the meaning of that term as used in Article 16 (4) of the Constitution.”

Accordingly, the recommendation is to reserve 15 per cent of posts in all cadres and grades under the Central and State governments for the religious and linguistic minorities. Of this, 10 per cent quota is recommended for Muslims and the rest for other minorities.

The report, co-authored by Tahir Mahmood, also recommends the inclusion of Muslim and Christian Dalits in SC list, something the National Commission for Minorities has also been supporting.

TERRORISM; LAW & ORDER
ULFA chief held in Bangladesh
In the most serious setback that has been suffered by the banned United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA) in recent times, its chairman Arabinda Rajkhowa was arrested by Bangladeshi agencies somewhere near Dhaka in Bangladesh on December 2, 2009.

The arrest which came close on the heels of November 5 arrest of another two top leaders of the outfit, Sashadhar Choudhury and Chitrabon Hazarika, in Dhaka indicated that the outfit’s sanctuary in Bangladesh was in serious danger.

With Rajkhowa’s arrest, only two major leaders of the outfit, self-styled commander-in-chief Paresh Barua and deputy commander in chief Raju Baruah, are now at large. Another top leader, general secretary Anup Chetia, alias Golap Barua, is lodged in a jail in Bangladesh.

Arabinda Rajkhowa (53) whose real name is Rajib Rajkonwar, has been the chairman of the ULFA since early 1980s and was one of the founder leaders of the ULFA. He studied up to Class XII, and is the second of three sons of freedom fighter Umakanta Rajkonwar who passed away three years ago at the age of 101 years. He hails from Lakwa in Sivasagar district of Upper Assam.

Rajkhowa also has an Interpol red corner notice against him, issued on June 4, 1997 for his involvement in several heinous crimes. Out of India since 1992, Rajkhowa is known to keep travelling to Myanmar, Bhutan, Thailand, Bhutan, Pakistan and other countries on fake identity and fake passports.

He was trained under Kachin Independence Army in Myanmar and National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN). He can handle all types of arms. He is also the vice-president of the Indo-Burma Revolutionary Front (IBRF).


CURRENT INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS
PAKISTAN
Law catches up with leadership
On December 16, 2009, the Supreme Court of Pakistan declared the National Reconciliation Order (NRO) null and void. Lawyers termed the decision as a landmark judgement and demanded that President Asif Ali Zardari step down from his post. The Court ruled that the decree protecting Zardari and his allies against charges of corruption was illegal and against the constitution.

The Supreme Court further ruled that all cases under investigation or pending enquiries and which had either been withdrawn or where the investigations or enquiries had been terminated on account of the NRO shall also stand revived and the relevant and competent authorities shall proceed in the matter in accordance with law.

The NRO, issued by former President Pervez Musharraf, had scrapped all corruption cases against politicians and bureaucrats filed between January 1986 and October 1999, on the grounds that they may have been politically motivated. The ordinance had allowed Benazir Bhutto and her husband Zardari to return to Pakistan.

In the first fallout of the Supreme Court ruling arrest warrants were issued against Pakistan Interior Minister Rehman Malik and Defence Minister Chaudhry Ahmed Mukhtar on December 18, 2009. Both were also barred from going abroad on an official visit.
   
The National Accountability Bureau, Pakistan’s main anti-corruption agency, also banned 250 other officials from going abroad following the order.

INTERNATIONAL ECONOMY
Japan unveils new $81 billion stimulus plan
Japan’s government has unveiled $81 billion of new stimulus spending to keep the world’s second-biggest economy from lurching back into recession.

Despite shrinking tax revenue, Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama and his Cabinet agreed to 7.2 trillion yen ($80.6 billion) in new spending after days of negotiations with coalition partners.

The largesse underlines that the world’s biggest economies are still too fragile to get by without government life support even as a recovery from the global recession takes shape. In export-reliant Asia that’s partly because demand from Europe and the US is improving only tepidly and efforts to reduce dependence on trade by boosting consumer spending will take several years to fully bear fruit.

Japan also faces falling prices while brand-name exporters like Toyota Motor and Sony are losing record amounts of money as a galloping yen adds to their woes.

ENVIRONMENT
A face-saver in Copenhagen
The Copenhagen Accord, the first global agreement of the 21st century to comprehensively influence the flow and share of natural resources, was agreed upon by 26 most influential countries in the wee hours of December 19, 2009, in the capital of Denmark. The US led the pack of architects with the BASIC four—China, India, Brazil and South Africa (in that order)—working as sometimes reluctant and sometimes willing, but always key partners in framing the agreement.

The accord demands that increase in global temperatures be kept below 2 degrees on the basis of equity. It requires global emissions as well as all national emissions to peak at a certain time but is mindful of concerns of economic development. It asks industrialized countries, except the US, to take emission cuts in future, but not necessarily under the Kyoto Protocol. It lays out up to $30 billion of quick-start finance and $100 billion starting 2020, using all the routes of transfer possible. It requires mitigation actions from developing countries for the first time to be listed in an international agreement.

The rules of multilateral engagement got re-written as new alignments created a coterie of the powerful that brokered deals in closed rooms: each working at the end to preserve, if not improve its immediate economic status.
   
The pact they forged did cause heartburn as less powerful economies felt left out. Tuvalu and Sudan said it was too weak, while Venezuela and Bolivia were upset because it had not been negotiated in the open by all the 192 countries attending the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) conference. The low-ambition deal was seen as a triumph of the US which defied estimates to influence the outcome. But the negotiations also saw the Chinese leveraging their clout in the resource-rich African continent, at a multilateral forum.

For India though, the Accord came out of hard bargaining lasting almost 20 hours among Heads of governments of some of the most influential countries in the world. At the end of the day, when the battle was over, India appeared to have ceded ground on some issues but blocked intrusion on other red lines.

With stakes too high and the rich countries making abjectly clear that they were not playing to the rules, but to change the rules altogether, the four emerging economies decided to instead scratch up a low-ambition deal—a pact that would lower the pressure on them by lowering the demands off the rich countries in parallel.

Finally the Copenhagen Accord take a morphed form of the US-backed schedules approach of ‘pledge and review’. The Copenhagen Accord is not what the US or Europe would have wanted it to be, but it still contains some elements India would have to, at best, fight to defend again in coming years or those that could be titled a lost battle by the end of the talks.

India, along with the other three emerging countries, fought hard and won the battle to retain the reference principle of common but differentiated responsibility which creates the firewall between the commitments of the rich countries and the actions of rest. India was also able to wrest the creation of a green climate fund as well as fight back the attempt to force emission cuts through the back-door.

But fighting a defensive battle, evidently wanting not to be labelled obstructionist by the US, India, along with the other three partners loosened up its stance on some key issues. This loosening of stance may not hit home immediately but it left the window open for growing inequitable burden falling on India’s head to prevent climate change.

Major Highlights
  • The final draft after the Copenhagen summit has agreed to cuts in emissions and hold increase in global temp below 2°C.
  • A proposal attached to the accord calls for a legally binding treaty by the end-2010.
  • Developed countries to provide adequate financial resources and technology to support developing countries. A goal of mobilizing $100 billion a year by 2020 to address the needs of developing countries has been set.
  • Details of mitigation plans are included in separate annexure, one for developed countries and one for voluntary pledges from developing countries. These are not binding, and describe the current status of pledges—ranging from ‘under consideration’ for the United States to ‘adopted by legislation’ for the European Union.
  • Emerging economies have been asked to monitor their efforts and report the results to the United Nations every two years, with some international checks to meet transparency concerns of West but ‘ensure that national sovereignty is respected’.
  • The accord agrees to provide positive incentives to fund afforestation with financial resources from developed world
  • Carbon Markets are mentioned in the accord, but not in detail. The deal promises to pursue various approaches, including opportunities to use markets to enhance the cost-effectiveness and promote mitigations actions.
US takes giant leap on climate
The US Environmental Protection Agency has cleared the way for regulation of greenhouse gases without any new laws being passed by Congress, reflecting President Barack Obama’s commitment to act on climate change. The agency can now begin to make rules to regulate emissions from vehicle tailpipes, power utilities and heavy industry under existing laws.

The EPA ruling applies to six gases scientists say contribute to global warming, including the main one, carbon dioxide.

The UN climate summit finally passed the Copenhagen accord Saturday after two days of intense negotiations and back-room manoeuvres. The accord, proposed by India and four other countries, is now “operational”, a relieved UN chief, Ban Ki-Moon, said. The accord that is meant to be a first step towards fighting the climate change that is affecting millions worldwide was still held up for hours by four countries.

INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS
Siberia pipeline to reach APAC markets
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin inaugurated the East-Siberia-Pacific Ocean oil pipeline on December 28, 2009, which will enable Moscow to enter markets in Asia- Pacific region and reduce dependency on European customers.

The project is designed to pump up to 1.6 million barrels (220,000 tonnes) of crude per day from Siberia to Russia’s far east and then on to China and the Asia-Pacific region. The project’s first leg envisages the construction of a 2,757-kilometre section with annual capacity of 220.5 million barrels of crude. It will link Taishet, in East Siberia’s Irkutsk Region, to Skovorodino, in the Amur Region, in Russia’s far east. The second stretch will run 2,100 kilometres from Skovorodino to the Pacific Ocean.

Currently the crude beyond Skovorodino goes by rail to China and the Pacific coast.

India moots trans-SAARC container train
India has floated a concept paper among the SAARC countries to start a container train on a pilot basis, running from Bangladesh to Pakistan via India and Nepal, in a bid to give a big boost intra-regional trade. The possible corridor for running the train is from Chittagong Port in Bangladesh to Katihar in India, Birgunj in Nepal and to Lahore in Pakistan.

The proposal being considered could unify the entire region and will lead to a seamless, border-less trade.

At present, India operates one passenger train each to Pakistan and Bangladesh for the benefit of the citizens on the either side of the border. While the train to Pakistan operates between Delhi and Lahore, the other to Bangladesh operates between Kolkata and Dhaka.

INTERNATIONAL TERRORISM
FBI indicts Headley for 26/11
David Coleman Headley aka Daood Gilani, has been formally charged for conspiracy in the 26/11 terror attacks in Mumbai in 2008. After an intensive probe, the FBI has said that Headley delivered, placed, discharged and detonated explosives and other lethal devices in, into, and against places of public use in India.
   
The FBI has indicted Headley on six counts. Significantly, the FBI has also formally charged a retired Major of the Pakistan army, Abdur Rehman Hashim Syed, for the plot against a Danish newspaper that Headley wanted to attack for the publication of cartoons of Prophet Mohammad. Indian officials said Rehman was closely linked to the ISI. He has been arrested by Pakistan; if the charges are upheld during the trial, it would be the first smoking gun that the ISI is involved in exporting terror.

New Af-Pak policy of USA
US President Barack Obama, who unveiled his administration’s Af-Pak policy on December 2, 2009, ordered a surge of 30,000 US troops in Afghanistan and a “transfer of forces out” to begin in July, 2011.

The strategic and security communities are uneasy over the President’s withdrawal plans. While The Washington Post called it a “surge, then leave” policy, security experts are of the view that withdrawal decisions must be determined by the conditions on the ground and not by arbitrary deadlines. “The Obama administration has no exit strategy, it has only exit timeline,” said Republican opponents.

As the speech clearly rejected the counter-insurgency principle of “clear, hold and build,” there are fears that any setback would only invigorate the jihadist cause and put untenable pressure on Pakistan and India. But President Obama appears to be keen on winding down the war when he enters the political build up to the 2012 Presidential election.

In his address, President Obama described Pak-Afghan border as the epicentre of the violent extremism practised by Al-Qaeda. “It is from here that we were attacked on 9/11, and it is from here that new attacks are being plotted as I speak. “The people and governments of both Afghanistan and Pakistan are endangered. And the stakes are even higher within a nuclear-armed Pakistan, because we know that Al Qaeda and other extremists seek nuclear weapons, and we have every reason to believe that they would use them.”
   
In his address, President Obama said the US will deny Al Qaeda a safe haven and will reverse the Taliban’s momentum and crush its ability to overthrow the government. “We’re in Afghanistan to prevent a cancer from once again spreading through that country. But this same cancer has also taken root in the border region of Pakistan. That’s why we need a strategy that works on both sides of the border,” he said justifying inclusion of Pakistan in his Afghan policy.

Stating that this was an international effort, President Obama sought the same war escalation measures from his allies. “Some have already provided additional troops, and we are confident that there will be further contributions in the days and weeks ahead. Our friends have fought and bled and died alongside us in Afghanistan. Now, we must come together to end this war successfully. For what’s at stake is not simply a test of NATO’s credibility; what’s at stake is the security of our allies, and the common security of the world,” he said.

Scare aboard Delta Airliner
On December 27, 2009, US Federal officials brought criminal charges  against a Nigerian man suspected of trying to destroy a Northwest Airlines aircraft on December 25, 2009 as it approached the airport in Detroit, Michigan.

The US Department of Justice said that Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, 23, had boarded the plane in Amsterdam, Netherlands, and tried near the end of the nine-hour-flight to set off an explosion using PETN, also known as pentaerythritol, a high explosive.

Fellow passengers rushed to subdue the terror suspect after they heard popping sounds and saw smoke and fire coming from Abdulmutallab's seat. 

Even though the US authorities are yet to confirm the Yemen connection of the 23-year-old Nigerian man's plot to blow up a Detroit-bound airliner on Christmas Day, they see Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab's account that Al-Qaida had supplied explosive powder to him in Yemen "highly plausible."

The suspect, reportedly, told US investigators that he had obtained explosive chemicals and a syringe that were sewn into his underwear from a bomb expert in Yemen associated with Al-Qaida, as part of a "mission to bring down a jet on US soil".

London: Terror capital of the West?
Britain has now emerged as the "terror capital of the West" as whenever a major terrorist attack is attempted, suspicion swings on this country, according to a media report.

“It comes as no surprise to learn that the Nigerian accused of blowing up the US airliner is said to have been living here. We have become the number one source of terrorism in the Western world. We shelter foreign jihadis, and even grow our own… For years now, Islamic extremists wanted on terror charges in their own country have taken sanctuary in Britain… Our judges (not our politicians) say it would be cruel to send them back to their own countries, in case they're tortured,” the 'News of the World' quoted the Editor of Spectacle, Fraser Nelson, as saying.

Years ago, the CIA had a name for it: "Londonistan".

India’s total external debt rose by 8.1% to $242.8 billion at the end of September 2009, from $224.6 billion at March-end 2009. The long-term debt increased by 10.6% to $200.4 billion, while short-term debt declined by 2.3% to $42.4 billion. Most of the increase in the debt ($8.3 billion or 45.6%) is due to depreciation of dollar against major global currencies, out of total increase of $18.2 billion, according to a Finance Ministry statement.

There are 12 full moons most years but every two or three years there is an extra full moon which is called a “Blue moon”.

Year 2009 was designated by UN as the International Year of Astronomy, to commemorate 400 years of Galileo’s theory about the solar system.

Government of India has introduced for the first time ‘visa on arrival’ scheme for tourists from five countries—Singapore, Finland, New Zealand, Luxembourg and Japan.

The Clementiny is the world’s smallest citrus fruit with size of 4 cm wide and 2 cm high.

East and South-East Asian countries have decided to launch a $120-billion emergency fund in March, 2010, the first such alliance in the region, to shield themselves from a financial crisis. Under the scheme— known as the Chiang Mai Initiative Multilateralization (CMIM)—Japan, China, South Korea, Hong Kong and the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) can swap their own currency into US dollars in case of a liquidity crunch.

India’s share in the global flow of FDI almost doubled to 2.45% in 2008 compared to the previous year, according to Union Commerce Minister Anand Sharma. Among developing countries, India ranked fourth in terms of FDI inflows in 2008 as per figures published in UNCTAD World Investment Report (WIR) 2009. During 2008-09, India attracted FDI inflows worth $35.17 billion.

Financial Action Task Force (FATF) was founded by the G-7 countries in 1989 to develop and promote national and international policies to combat money laundering and terror financing. The membership of the FATF is limited to 35 countries at present. India has an observer status. India is a member of the Asia-Pacific Group, a FATF-style regional body. Membership of FATF will allow India easy access to real-time information on money laundering and terror financing and help to raise the diplomatic pitch against perpetrators. It will also make India more attractive in the eyes of global investors.

Every third Indian is living below poverty line, says an expert group headed by Suresh Tendulkar, former chairman of PM’s Economic Advisory Council. The report puts the incidence of poverty in India at a high 37% of population, 10 percentage points more than estimated earlier. Among the States, Orissa and Bihar are at the bottom, while Nagaland, Delhi and J&K have the least number of poor. As much as 41.8% of the rural population survives on a monthly per-capita consumption expenditure of Rs 447, spending only so much on bare necessities such as food, fuel, light, clothing and footwear. Among urban population, 25.7% are poor, who spend only Rs 578.8 on essential needs. The expert group was set up following criticism of the existing official estimates of poverty released by the Planning Commission in 2007.

India's Nobel Peace Prize winner Mother Teresa will be honoured on a US postage stamp on her birth centenary. The postage stamp honouring Mother Teresa is scheduled to go on sale on August 26, 2010, on the occasion of her 100th birthday.

With a sale of 107 million newspapers daily, India is the biggest newspaper market in the world. Together with China and Japan, it accounts for over 60 per cent of the global newspaper sales. Interestingly, the USA accounts for only 14 per cent of the total newspaper sales. Globally, 1.9 billion people read newspaper every day, which is 34 per cent of the world population, while 24 per cent use the Internet. The WAN-IFRA survey showed that newspaper circulation grew, on a global scale, by 1.3 per cent in 2008 and almost 9 per cent over five years. The data shows consistent newspaper growth in Africa, Asia and South America, and a long-term slowdown in the US and European markets.










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