Slash staff strength at High Commission in New Delhi, India tells Pakistan

Paper: II

Mains: General Studies- II: Governance, Constitution, Polity, Social Justice and International relations.

Why in news:

Protesting espionage and terrorism-related activities by officials of the Pakistan High Commission in Delhi as well as the ill treatment of Indian High Commission officials in Islamabad, the Indian government has decided to reduce the staff strength at both missions by half.

Background:

  • The government’s decision follows the return of two Indian staffers from Pakistan, who had been subjected to torture by Pakistan security agencies.
  • The last time this kind of reduction of diplomats was carried out was in 2001, after the Parliament attack.

 Key Details:

  • MEA in its statement said, “The behavior of Pakistan and its officials is not in conformity with the Vienna Convention and bilateral agreements on the treatment of diplomatic and consular officials. On the contrary, it is an intrinsic element of a larger policy of supporting cross-border violence and terrorism”.
  • The reduction in staff strengths is the latest in a series of measures taken by New Delhi and Islamabad who have seen bilateral ties plummet since the Pulwama terror attack in 2019 and the government’s decision to amend Article 370 of the Constitution and reorganize the State of Jammu and Kashmir.
  • In the past year both sides have snapped trade ties, reduced visas to a minimum and cancelled overflight rights for a few months.
  • In August 2019, Pakistan expelled the Indian High Commissioner, and both missions have functioned without a High Commissioner since then.

Conclusion:

  • According to diplomats, the impact of the staff reduction will not be felt in any major way on either side, since there are very limited activities being undertaken by both missions at present.
  • However, it is a symbolically strong message, in line with the decision of the government in December 2001, when it protested the Parliament attack, amidst the mobilization of troops on both sides of the border and LoC in what was called Operation Parakram.

China warns risk of naval conflict with U.S.

Paper: II

Mains: General Studies- II: Governance, Constitution, Polity, Social Justice and International relations.

Why in News:

The U.S. military is deploying unprecedented numbers to the Asia-Pacific region, raising the risk of an incident with China’s Navy, a senior Chinese official has said.

Details:

  • Tensions between the two have soared on multiple fronts since President Donald Trump took office.
  • According to a report, U.S. has deployed 3,75,000 soldiers and 60% of its warships in the Indo-Pacific region. Three US aircraft carriers have been sent to the region.
  • The United States’ regular “freedom of navigation” operations in the South China Sea — where China and neighboring countries have competing claims — angers Beijing, and China’s Navy usually warns off the U.S. ships.
  • During former President Barack Obama’s eight years in office, the U.S. Navy conducted four freedom of navigation operations while there have been 22 of them under President Trump.
  • Also, Beijing has infuriated other nations by building artificial islands with military installations in parts of the sea.

Conclusion:

  • If a crisis were to erupt, the repercussions on bilateral relations would be catastrophic.
  • The document warns that deteriorating military relations would substantially increase the possibility of a dangerous incident, a conflict or even a crisis.
  • As per the report, the two militaries should step up communication in order to prevent strategic misunderstanding and miscalculation.
  • The report says China does not regard the United States as a potential rival or envisage a new cold or hot war with the U.S.

Trump issues proclamation to suspend H-1B, other visas till year end

Paper: II

Mains: General Studies- II: Governance, Constitution, Polity, Social Justice and International relations.

Why in news:

The U.S. President has signed an executive order (EO) pausing new H-1B visas effective June 24, 2020 through the end of the year.

Key Details:

  • H4 visas (H-1B dependents), L visas (intra-company transfers), as well as H-2B (non-agricultural workers) and J visas will be on pause through the year-end.
  • H-1B visa is required to work in a specialty occupation. Requires a higher education degree or its equivalent. Includes fashion models of distinguished merit and ability and government-to-government research and development, or co-production projects administered by the Department of Defence.
  • L1 visas allow companies to transfer highly skilled workers to US for a period of up to seven years.
  • H-2B visas allow food and agricultural workers to seek employment in the US.
  • H-1B, H-2B, J and L visa holders, and their spouses or children already present in the US shall not be impacted by the new worker visa ban.
  • The order was issued ostensibly to protect American jobs during the ongoing pandemic.
  • It has been criticized by the tech industry as well as politicians on both sides of the aisle as damaging to the U.S. economy.

Why did the US suspend non-immigrant worker visas?

  • Since it was started in 1952, the H-1 visa scheme has undergone many changes and revisions to allow or disallow certain categories of skilled workers in the US, depending on the economic situation of the country.
  • The technology boom coupled with the arrival of the internet and low-cost computers in developing nations such as India and China saw a large number of graduates willing to work at relatively low costs in the US, a win-win situation for both the employer and the employee.
  • However, it has since often been criticized for sending low cost workers to the US at the expense of domestic workers.
  • In his executive order extending the ban, Trump said that while under normal circumstances, “properly administered temporary worker programs can provide benefits to the economy,”, the extraordinary economic contraction created due to COVID-19 posed a threat to the US workers.

Impact on Indian IT companies

  • Indian IT companies are amongst the biggest beneficiaries of the US H-1B visa regime, and have since the 1990s cornered a lion’s share of the total number of visas issued each year.
  • Indian IT companies also offer subcontracts to Indian nationals already present in the US with valid H-1B visas.
  • As of April 1, 2020, the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) had received about 2.5 lakh H-1B work visa applications, according to official data.
  • Indians had applied for as many as 1.84 lakh or 67 per cent of the total H-1B work visas for the current financial year ending March 2021.
  • Apart from the suspension of these work visas, the executive order signed by Trump has also made sweeping changes to the H-1B work visa norms, which will no longer be decided by the currently prevalent lottery system.
  • The new norms will now favor highly-skilled workers who are paid the highest wages by their respective companies.
  • This could result in a significant impact on margins and worker wages of Indian IT companies which send thousands of low-cost employees to work on client sites in the US.
  • However, as per research agency ICRA, the move will be mildly negative for the Indian IT services sector considering their high dependence on such visas.

U.S. seeks to widen nuclear deal with Russia

Paper: II

Mains: General Studies- II: Governance, Constitution, Polity, Social Justice and International relations.

Why in news:

According to a U.S. envoy in talks with Russia on a new accord, the U.S. wants to broaden its nuclear arms control pact with Russia to include all their atomic weapons.

Key Details:

  • S. special presidential envoy has urged China to join the talks on replacing the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), which expires in February 2021.
  • According to a senior U.S. official, the concerns about China’s testing activities supported President Donald Trump’s case for getting China to join the United States and Russia in talks on an arms control accord to replace the 2010 New START treaty.

New START:

  • New START is a nuclear arms reduction treaty between the United States and the Russian Federation with the formal name of Measures for the Further Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms.
  • It was signed on 8 April 2010 in Prague, and, after ratification entered into force on 5 February 2011.
  • New START replaced the Treaty of Moscow (SORT), which was due to expire in December 2012. Its name is a follow-up to the START I treaty, which expired in December 2009, the proposed START II treaty, which never entered into force, and the START III treaty, for which negotiations were never concluded.

SC gives nod to woman to abort foetus

Paper: II

Mains: General Studies- II: Governance, Constitution, Polity, Social Justice and International relations.

Why in news:

The Supreme Court has allowed a woman in her 25th week of pregnancy bearing twins to medically terminate one of the foetuses detected with substantial abnormalities.

Details:

  • The Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act of 1971 bars abortion if the foetus has crossed the 20-week mark.
  • An exception to the law is made if a registered medical practitioner certifies to a court that the continued pregnancy is life-threatening for the mother.
  • In the present case, a three-judge Bench set aside the Bombay High Court’s rejection.
  • It allowed the woman to go ahead with the “selective foetal reduction” procedure after a medical expert reported that the process would not harm the other normal foetus or the mother

Medical Termination of Pregnancy (Amendment) Bill, 2020

  • Section 3of the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Act, 1971, capped the abortion limit at 20 weeks.
  • Under Section 5, a woman could undergo abortion beyond 20 weeks only if her life was endangered by the pregnancy.
  • But there remained no provision for foetuses that were diagnosed with severe life-threatening defects.
  • Most birth defectsare diagnosed between 16 to 18 weeks of pregnancy. But some anomalies of the brain and spine can be detected only after 20 weeks.
  • The MTP Act, 1971 was replete with unclear language, which resulted in doctors refusing to perform abortions even within the stipulated 20-week gestation limit fearing criminal charges.
  • Women had to seek the approval of the judiciary, which, by most accounts, did not always come in time.
  • “As a result,”, notes a 2015 study in the India Journal of Medical Ethics, “10 to 13 per cent of maternal deaths in India are due to unsafe abortions”.
  • Given the delays in the judicial system, the 20-week mark often passed, leaving many, including rape survivors, with unwanted pregnancies.

Features of the bill

  • The bill proposes to permit the termination of pregnancy up to 24 weeks from the existing 20 weeks.
  • It aims to expand access for women to safe and legal abortion services on therapeutic, eugenic, humanitarian or social grounds.
  • The amendments proposed in the bill are the requirement for the opinion of one doctor for the termination of pregnancy up to 20 weeks of gestation, and introducing the requirement of the opinion of two doctors for the termination of pregnancy of 20-24 weeks of gestation.
  • The bill also proposed enhancing the upper gestation limit from 20 to 24 weeks for special categories of women, which will be defined in the amendments to the MTP Rules and would include vulnerable women including survivors of rape, victims of incest and other vulnerable women (like differently-abled women, minors), etc.
  • Upper gestation limit will not applyin cases of substantial foetal abnormalities diagnosed by Medical Board.
  • The composition, functions and other details of the Medical Board are to be prescribed subsequently in Rules under the Act.
  • Name and other particulars of a womanwhose pregnancy has been terminated shall not be revealed except to a person authorized in any law for the time being in force.

Significance

  • The extension of limit would ease the process for women, allowing the mainstream system itself to take care of them, delivering quality medical attention.
  • It has a provision to protect the privacyof the person seeking abortion.
  • The proposed increase in gestational age will ensure dignity, autonomy, confidentiality and justice for women who need to terminate a pregnancy.
  • The extension will help victims of rape, girls with disabilities as well as minors, who may not realize they are pregnant until later.

Issue Area

  • MTP will be extended till 24 weeks only for certain categories of women, there is also a provision that says that pregnancies with foetal abnormalities can be terminated only after being approved by medical boards.
  • Medical boards often delay medical interventions required and often do not have the right kind of specialists.

SEBI makes raising funds easier for stressed companies

Paper: III

Mains: General Studies-III: Technology, Economic Development, Bio diversity, Environment, Security and Disaster Management

Why in news:

The Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) has relaxed the norms for preferential allotment for companies that have stressed assets, thereby making it easier for such entities to raise funds.

Key Details:

  • SEBI said, listed entities with stressed assets can make preferential allotment at a price that is not less than the average of the weekly high and low of the volume weighted average prices of the related equity shares during the two weeks preceding the relevant date.
  • It has exempted allottees in such issuances from having to make an open offer even if the quantum of acquisition triggers an open offer or there is a change in control in terms of Takeover Regulations.
  • The preferential issue cannot be made to entities that are part of the promoter group or those that have been identified as undischarged insolvent, willful defaulter or fugitive economic offender.
  • The resolution for such a preferential allotment and the exemption from an open offer will have to be passed by the majority of minority shareholders and the proposed end-use of proceeds of such preferential issue will have to be disclosed.
  • The proceeds cannot be used for repayment of any loans taken from the promoter group/or group companies.
  • A three-year lock-in will also be applicable on the shares allotted in such a preferential allotment.