NASA – Crew-1 Mission
As part of NASA’s first commercial human spacecraft system in history, a crew of four astronauts is now en route to the International Space Station (ISS) on a 27-hour flight, onboard SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft called Resilience.
Crew-1 is the first operational flight of the SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft on a Falcon 9 rocket to the ISS and is also the first of the three such flights scheduled over the course of 2020-21.
- It is the first of six crewed missions that NASA and SpaceX will operate as part of the Commercial Crew Program, whose objective is to make access to space easier in terms of its cost, so that cargo and crew can be easily transported to and from the ISS, enabling greater scientific research.
- The programme is a way to reduce the cost of going to space for agencies such as NASA and also makes it possible for any individual to buy a ticket on a commercial rocket. Therefore, the launch is being seen as the beginning of a new era in space travel.
Why is the mission significant?
The Crew-1 mission marks many firsts for NASA and SpaceX including it being the first flight of the NASA-certified commercial system, the first international crew of four to launch on an American commercial spacecraft, the first time the space station’s long-duration expedition crew size will increase from six to seven crew members, which will add to the crew time available for research and the first time the Federal Aviation Administration has licensed a human orbital spaceflight launch.
India’s stand on RCEP
The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), a mega trade bloc comprising 15 countries led by China, that came into existence said India would have to write expressing “intention” to join the organisation to restart negotiations for membership.
- The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) is a trade deal that has been signed amongst 16 countries — the 10 member countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), and the six countries with which the ASEAN bloc has free trade agreements (FTA).
- The ASEAN, which includes Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam, has FTAs with India, Australia, China, South Korea, Japan and New Zealand.
- The purpose of RCEP was to make it easier for products and services of each of these countries to be available across this region. Negotiations to chart out this deal had been on since 2013, and India was expected to be a signatory until its decision last November.
What did India demand?
- India demanded that the base year for tariff reduction should be 2019-20 and not 2014-15. It was demanded to protect the electronic products which could have attracted zero tariffs. India was also demanding an auto-trigger mechanism to curb import surges.
- India had a bitter experience with its FTA with the ASEAN. The real beneficiary of India-ASEAN FTA was China which was routing the finished products to India from ASEAN nations. For this reason, India proposed a strict rules of origin (ROO) clauseto stop third country imports.
- India was also against the proposed inclusion of investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) in the RCEP by members like Singapore & Japan. India does not want its domestic laws to be challenged in offshore arbitral tribunals.
There is a strategic context to India staying out of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) that goes beyond purely economic or trade arguments and implications. Even though India made its decision a year ago, the recent escalation of tensions with China amid the ongoing standoff at the Line of Actual Control in Ladakh appears to have played a role in shrinking the space for any argument to join the RCEP.
In November 2019, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar had said India’s stance was based on a “clear-eyed calculation” of the gains and costs of entering a new arrangement, and that no pact was better than a “bad agreement”.
India’s hardening stand
The hardening of India’s position was evident in September 2020, when Jaishankar made a thinly-veiled reference to the RCEP: “Now, we had taken globalisation as saying we will become more competitive, you know we will keep in touch with the world. Now, fast forward 20 years, what are you actually seeing? Can you honestly tell me that, oh yes, because of this openness, because of all these FTAs today, India is more innovative, India is more competitive, Indian manufacturing is thriving, Indian exports are booming, and they’re not. If they’re not, there’s a good reason. I agree that you cannot be a rising power without being a rising economy. To do that, you have to build your domestic capacities.
Costs and benefits
- RCEP has now been signed without India. It has been learnt that negotiators from Japan worked hard to keep the RCEP agreement “open for accession by India” and also said that India may participate in RCEP meetings as an “observer”.
- Japan led the drafting of the Minister’s Declaration on India’s participation in RCEP. This is a reflection of the cooperation between India and like-minded countries — especially the Quad countries (Australia, the United States, Japan) — to have “resilient supply chains” in future.
- It is no secret that all Quad countries plus a few more — including New Zealand, South Korea and Vietnam — have been talking to each other to secure resilient supply chains, away from China. Japan and Australia, who have a difficult diplomatic relationship with China, have joined RCEP.
- Srikanth Kondapalli, professor of Chinese studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University said, “China is trying to overcome Covid-19 disruptions and resurrect the supply chain mechanism and possibly put pressure on [US President-elect Joe] Biden. The Indo-Pacific so far ran on twin tracks of economy and security with economy on a weak wicket. China is trying to strengthen the base while the US [is focussed on] the security aspects. For India, RCEP hardly makes a difference as it has FTAs with ASEAN, and CEPAs (Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreements) with Japan and South Korea already.”
- The ramifications of India’s decision to opt out of RCEP will be tested. When India chose to stay out of the Belt and Road Initiative in 2017, there was much commentary that New Delhi might be isolating itself. Three years later, India’s position has been recognised by like-minded democracies, and many have said that India’s decision was prescient.
- Some analysts argue that “if you don’t want to be on the menu, you have to be at the table”. That’s why India’s seat at the table as an “observer” is an important development, where Delhi can make sure that it is not on the “menu”.
Indian States – Sex Ratio
Arunachal Pradesh recorded the best sex ratio in the country, while Manipur recorded the worst, according to the 2018 report on “Vital statistics of India based on the Civil Registration System” published by the Registrar-General of India.
Sex ratio at birth is the number of females born per 1,000 males. The sex ratio is 943 in India as per the 2011 census. That is, there are 943 females for every 1000 males.
Performance of Indian states
- Arunachal Pradesh recorded 1,084 females born per thousand males, followed by Nagaland (965) Mizoram (964), Kerala (963) and Karnataka (957). The worst was reported in Manipur (757), Lakshadweep (839) and Daman & Diu (877), Punjab (896) and Gujarat (897). Delhi recorded a sex ratio of 929, Haryana 914 and Jammu and Kashmir 952.
- The number of registered births increased to 2.33 crore in 2018 from 2.21 crore registered births the previous year. The level of registration of births has increased to 89.3% in 2018 from 81.3% in 2009.
- The prescribed time limit for registration of birth or death is 21 days. Some States, however, register the births and deaths even after a year.
Registrar General of India
- It is under the Ministry of Home Affairs.
- Apart from conducting the Population Census and monitoring the implementation of the Registration of Births and Deaths in the country, it has been giving estimates on fertility and mortality using the Sample Registration System (SRS).
- SRS is the largest demographic sample survey in the country that among other indicators provide direct estimates of maternal mortality through a nationally representative sample.
Forest Rights Act – Hunsur taluk of Mysuru
Over 1,200 tribals in Hunsur taluk of Mysuru district stare at an uncertain future as their review petition for recognition of their claims over forest land under the Scheduled Tribes and Other Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006, has been rejected by the local authorities.
The Supreme Court in 2019 ordered the eviction of nearly a million people across India, whose claims under the forest rights acts had been rejected. Now, nearly 1,200 applications from Hunsur had been rejected and the applicants received a communique stating that they had failed to furnish evidence to substantiate the claims of their stay inside the forest.
Forest Rights Act (FRA)
- Aimed at protecting the rights of forest dwelling tribal communities the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 promised much. However, over the years its implementation has been tardy and there have been concerted efforts to dilute it.
- The legislation, which was passed in December 2006, concerns the rights of forest-dwelling communities to land and other resources, denied to them over decades as a result of the continuance of colonial forest laws in India.
- The Act grants legal recognition to the rights of traditional forest dwelling communities, partially correcting the injustice caused by the forest laws.
Rights under the Act
- Title rights – Ownership to land that is being farmed by tribals or forest dwellers subject to a maximum of 4 hectares; ownership is only for land that is actually being cultivated by the concerned family (as on December 13, 2005 and not thereafter), meaning that no new lands are granted.
- Use rights – To minor forest produce (also including ownership), to grazing areas, to pastoralist routes, etc.
- Relief and development rights – To rehabilitation in case of illegal eviction or forced displacement; and to basic amenities, subject to restrictions for forest protection.
- Forest management rights – to protect forests and wildlife.
Eligibility to get rights under the Act is confined to those who “primarily reside in forests” and who depend on forests and forest land for a livelihood. Further, either the claimant must be a member of the Scheduled Tribes scheduled in that area or must have been residing in the forest for 75 years.
Process of recognition of rights
The Act provides that the gram sabha, or village assembly, will initially pass a resolution recommending whose rights to which resources should be recognised. This resolution is then screened and approved at the level of the sub-division (or taluka) and subsequently at the district level. The screening committees consist of three government officials (Forest, Revenue and Tribal Welfare departments) and three elected members of the local body at that level. These committees also hear appeals.
Why this law was necessary?
Under the Indian Forest Act, areas were often declared to be “government forests” without recording who lived in these areas, what land they were using, what uses they made of the forest and so on. 82% of Madhya forest blocks and 40% of Orissa’s reserved forests were never surveyed; similarly 60% of India’s national parks have till today not completed their process of enquiry and settlement of rights. As the Tiger Task Force of the Government of India put it, “in the name of conservation, what has been carried out is a completely illegal and unconstitutional land acquisition programme.” Hence, this was law necessary.
UAE – Golden Visa
The United Arab Emirates will extend its “golden” visa system — which grants 10 year residency in the West Asian nation — to certain professionals, specialised degree-holders and others.
- Foreigners in the UAE usually have renewable visas valid for only a few years tied to employment. The government in the past couple of years has made its visa policy more flexible, offering longer residencies for certain types of investors, students and professionals.
- All holders of doctorate degrees, medical doctors and also computer, electronics, programming, electrical and biotechnology engineers will be eligible.
- Also eligible are those with specialised degrees in artificial intelligence, big data and epidemiology, as well as high school students living in the UAE who rank top in the country and students from certain universities with a GPA of 3.8 or higher.
- After first announcing a long-term visa plan in 2018, the UAE in 2019 started granting 5 and 10 year renewable visas to certain foreign investors, entrepreneurs, chief executives, scientists and outstanding students.