21ST OCTOBER CURRENT AFFAIRS

1. Malabar Exercise

News: Recently, Australia has agreed to join the Malabar Exercise on India’s request. The exercise is scheduled to be held in November 2020.

Malabar Exercise

  • Exercise Malabar is a trilateral naval exercise involving the United States, Japan and India as permanent partners. Originally begun in 1992 as a bilateral exercise between India and the United States, Japan became a permanent partner in 2015. Past non-permanent participants are Australia and Singapore.
  • The annual Malabar series began in 1992 and includes diverse activities, ranging from fighter combat operations from aircraft carriers through Maritime Interdiction Operations Exercises.

Significance of Australia’s incluision

  • The issue of Australia’s inclusion in Malabar had again come up for discussion at the Quad foreign ministers meet in Tokyo held in October 2020. Thereafter, India invited Australia to join the Exercise.
  • Quadis the informal strategic dialogue between India, the USA, Japan and Australia with a shared objective to ensure and support a free, open and prosperous” Indo-Pacific region.
  • The move will bolster the ability of India, Australia, Japan and the United States to work together to uphold peace and stability across the Indo-Pacific region.
  • It is also expected to further lay the foundations for the eventual formalisation of the Quad grouping.

Cooperation Between Quad Members:

  • India and Japan had signed a military logistics agreement in September, 2020.
  • India has signed maritime information sharing agreements for Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA)with Australia and Japan and a similar agreement is under discussion with the U.S.A. MDA is defined by the International Maritime Organization as the effective understanding of anything associated with the maritime domain that could impact the security, safety, economy, or environment of a country.
  • India and U.S.A. are also stepping up efforts to conclude the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA)ahead of the Indo-US 2+2 ministerial meeting on 26-27 October, 2020.
  • BECA, a key military pact, will allow India to use U.S.A.’s geospatial intelligence and enhance accuracy of automated systems and weapons like missiles and armed drones.
  • BECA is one of the four foundational military communication agreements between the two countries. The other three being GSOMIA, LEMOA, CISMOA.
  1. GSOMIA: General Security Of Military Information Agreement
  2. LEMOA: Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement
  3. CISMOA: Communications and Information Security Memorandum of Agreement
  • Defence and Foreign ministers of the two countries will Participate at the 2+2 ministerial meeting.

Way Forward

  • As India seeks to increase cooperation with other countries in the maritime security domain, high-end military exercises like Malabar are key to enhancing maritime capabilities, building interoperability with its close partners, and demonstrating its collective resolve to support an open and prosperous Indo-Pacific.
  • The fast-tracking of work on BECA and the decision of the four Quad countries to participate in the Malabar Exercise are perceived to be a strategic signal to an aggressive China.

2. Regulatory Sandbox

News: The International Financial Services Centres Authority (IFSCA) has introduced a framework for “Regulatory Sandbox”.

Background

  • The concept of a regulatory sandbox or innovation hub for fintech firms was mooted by a committee headed by then RBI executive director Sudarshan Sen.
  • The panel submitted its report in Nov 2017 has called for a regulatory sandbox to help firms experiment with fintech solutions, where the consequences of failure can be contained and reasons for failure analysed.
  • If the product appears to have the potential to be successful, it might be authorised and brought to the broader market more quickly.

Regulatory Sandbox

  • A regulatory sandbox usually refers to live testing of new products or services in a controlled/test regulatory environment for which regulators may permit certain regulatory relaxations for the limited purpose of the testing. The objective of the sandbox is to foster responsible innovation in financial services, promote efficiency and bring benefit to consumers.
  • It provides a secure environment for fintech firms to experiment with products under supervision of a regulator. It is an infrastructure that helps fintech players live test their products or solutions, before getting the necessary regulatory approvals for a mass launch, saving start-ups time and cost.

New framework by IFSCA

  • The Regulatory Sandbox shall operate within the IFSC located at GIFT City.
  • Entities operating in the capital market, banking, insurance and financial services spaceshall be granted certain facilities and flexibilities to experiment with innovative FinTech solutions in a live environment with a limited set of real customers for a limited time frame.
  • These features shall be fortified with necessary safeguards for investor protection and risk mitigation.

What is International Financial Services Centres Authority?

  • It is a statutory body established in 2020.
  • It works under the Department of Economic Affairs, Ministry of Finance.
  • Headquartered in Gandhinagar, Gujarat.

Its Roles and functions:

  • Its main function is to develop and regulate the financial products, financial services and financial institutions located/performed in the International Financial Services Centres in India.
  • The Authority is empowered to exercise the powers of RBI, SEBI, IRDAI and PFRDA in respect of financial services, financial products and financial institutions performed/located in the international financial services centres in the country.

Its Composition:

  • Chairperson, one Member each to be nominated by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), the Securities Exchange Board of India (SEBI), the Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority of India (IRDAI) and the Pension Fund Regulatory and Development Authority (PFRDA), two members to be dominated by the Central Government and two other whole-time or full-time or part-time members.
  • They will have a three-year term subject to reappointment.

Can an IFSC be set up in a special economic zone (SEZ)?

  • The SEZ Act 2005 allows setting up an IFSC in an SEZ or as an SEZ after approval from the central government.

GIFT City, Gandhinagar

  • GIFT city is India’s first operational smart city and international financial services centre (much like a modern IT park).
  • The idea for GIFT was conceived during the Vibrant Gujarat Global Investor Summit 2007 and the initial planning was done by East China Architectural Design & Research Institute (ECADI).
  • Currently approximately 225 units/companies are operational with more than 12000 professionals employed in the City.
  • The entire city is based on concept of FTTX (Fibre to the home / office).The fiber optic is laid in fault tolerant ring architecture so as to ensure maximum uptime of services.
  • Every building in GIFT City is an intelligent building. There is piped supply of cooking gas. India’s first city-level DCS (district cooling system) is also operational at GIFT City.

3. Heeng cultivation in India

News: Scientists at CSIR-Institute of Himalayan Bioresource Technology (IHBT), Palampur are on a mission to grow heeng (asafoetida) in the Indian Himalayas. IHBT is the only laboratory of the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) in Himachal Pradesh.

Heeng cultivation:

  • It is a herbaceous plant of the umbelliferae family. It is a perennial plant whose oleo gum resin is extracted from its thick roots and rhizome. The plant stores most of its nutrients inside its deep fleshy roots.
  • It is endemic to Iran and Afghanistan, which are also the main global suppliers of it. It is very popular in India and is used in cooking.
  • Climatic Condition: It thrives in dry and cold desert conditions. The plant can withstand a maximum temperature between 35 and 40 degree, whereas during winters, it can survive in temperatures up to minus 4 degree.
  • Regions with sandy soil, very little moisture and annual rainfall of not more than 200mm are considered conducive for heeng cultivation.
  • During extreme weather, the plant can get dormant.
  • Properties: It has medicinal properties, including relief for digestive, spasmodic and stomach disorders, asthma and bronchitis.
  • The herb is used to help with painful or excessive bleeding during menstruation and premature labour.

India’s Heeng cultivation project

  • Heeng is not cultivated in India. Government data states that India imports about 1,200 tonnes of raw heeng worth Rs 600 crore from Iran, Afghanistan and Uzbekistan.
  • In 2017, IHBT approached the National Bureau of Plant Genetic Resources(NBPGR) with an experimental project idea to cultivate heeng in the Indian Himalayas.
  • In June 2020, the IHBT inked a Memorandum of Understanding with the agriculture ministry of Himachal Pradesh to jointly cultivate the heeng.
  • The agriculture ministry has identified four locations in the Lahul-Spiti valley and has distributed heeng seeds to seven farmers in the region.
  • However, the challenge for the scientists is that heeng seeds remain under a prolonged dormant phase and the rate of seed germination is just 1%.

4. Judicial Independence

News: The All India Judges Association has passed a resolution condemning Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy’s letter against Supreme Court judge Justice N.V. Ramana as a “deliberate attempt to scandalise and coerce the judiciary”. The Association said the “tone, tenor and timing of the letter portrays malafide intent and appears to be orchestrated for hidden agendas”.

About the Issue

  • AP CM’s complaint is with respect to Supreme Court Justice N.V. Ramana’s alleged influencing of posting of cases in the State High Court. The complaint also alleges the hostile attitude of some High Court judges towards the current state government of Andhra Pradesh and their deliberate and unsubstantiated striking down of the state government’s decisions and orders.
  • This amounts to an accusation of misconduct, corruption and the political bias among the judges.
  • Though there have been previous instances of such allegations against certain judges, the current situation is unprecedented given that the current allegations have been made by a constitutional body, The Chief Minister of a state. This marks an open conflict between the judiciary and a Chief Minister.

Allegations of misconduct against judges:

  • There are two broad alternatives when it comes to complaints against sitting judges:
  1. In-house procedure.

In-house procedure

  • Since 1997, judges have adopted an ‘in-house procedure’ for inquiring into charges.
  • Under this, when a complaint is received against a High Court judge:
  1. The CJI should decide on the authenticity of the complaint and decide whether it is frivolous or it involves serious misconduct and impropriety.
  2. The CJI would ask for the concerned judge’s response if he feels the complaint is serious, The CJI may close the matter if he is satisfied with the response.

Suppose, If the CJI feels that a deeper probe is necessary:

  • He forms a three-member committee consisting of only the judiciary members.
  • The composition of this three-member committee depends on the position of the judge against whom the complaint has been filed. The inquiry it holds is of the nature of a fact-finding mission and is not a formal judicial inquiry involving examination of witnesses.
  • The committee can give two kinds of recommendations, one where it deems the misconduct as serious enough to require removal from office, or that it is not serious enough to warrant removal.

Nature of recommendations

  • If the committee deems the charges against the judge as genuine, the concerned judge will be urged to resign or seek voluntary retirement. If the judge is unwilling to quit, the Chief Justice of the High Court concerned would be asked to withdraw judicial work from him.
  • The executive i.e, the President and the Prime Minister are informed of the situation and are expected to begin the process of impeachment.
  • If the misconduct does not warrant removal, the judge would be advised accordingly.

Concerns against the manner of the release of the letter in the public domain:

  • The public disclosure of the letter could have compromised the dignity, independence and majesty of the top court and the A.P. High Court.
  • It could amount to scandalising the judiciary in the eyes of the people by sensationalising the issueand could also be deemed an interference with the administration of justice.
  • In such cases the faith of the people in the judiciary and the rule of law are at stake.

What does the constitution say about this?

  • Article 121 and Article 211of the Indian Constitution expressly bar Parliament and the state legislatures to discuss the conduct of any judge.
  • Besides, the SC in the Ravichandran Iyer v. Justice A.M. Bhattacharjee (1995) case has held that complaints against sitting judges should be kept confidential.