Daily Current Affairs : 8th July 2020

Daily Current Affairs for UPSC CSE

Topics Covered

  1. Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA)
  2. Equalisation Levy
  3. F 1 Visa
  4. Permanent Commission for Women officers
  5. Darbuk-Shyok-Daulat Beg Oldi (DSDBO) road
  6. Herd immunity
  7. Facts for Prelims

1 . Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA)



Context: Despite a change in the ground realities following the deadly clash between India and China along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) last month US stance on CAATSA remains unchanged.

About the News

  • US has urged all its allies and partners including India to forgo transactions with Russia as that might trigger sanctions under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA).
  • This has come in the background of the recent approval by Defence Acquisition Council for the procurement of 21 MiG-29 fighter jets for the Indian Air Force (IAF), an upgrade for 59 of these Russian aircraft and the acquisition of 12 Su-30 MKI aircraft.

What is CAATSA?

  • Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, CAATSA is a United States federal law
  • Ultimate goal of the act is to prevent revenue from flowing to the adversary countries.
  • Countries included under the act are Iran, North Korea, and Russia hence the Act aims at taking punitive measures against Russia, Iran, and North Korea

Sanctions

  • Section 235 of the CAATSA legislation stipulates 12 kinds of punitive sanctions that the U.S. could place on a country conducting significant transactions in defence, energy, oil pipelines and cybersecurity technology with any of the U.S.’s “adversaries”, and according to the Act, the U.S. President may impose “five or more of the sanctions described”.
  • These measures include export sanctions, cancellation of loans from U.S. and international financial institutions, ban on investments and procurement, restrictions on foreign exchange and banking transactions, and a visa and travel ban on officials associated with any entity carrying out the sanctioned transactions.

Sanction Waiver / Exit clause

  • There is also and exit clause in CAATSA, which states that “The [US] President may waive the application of [CAATSA] sanctions if the President determines that such a waiver is in the national security interest of the United States.”
  • In August 2018, the U.S. Congress also modified the waiver clause to allow the President to certify that a country is “cooperating with the United States Government on other matters that are critical to United States’ strategic national security interests”.

Can India be considered for the waiver

  • US may consider providing a waiver for India as a militarily stronger India is in the U.S.’s interests, and that India cannot completely drop its traditional dependence on Russian defence equipment without being weakened.
  • In addition, it is no secret that U.S. President Donald Trump has misgivings about the CAATSA sanctions, which he said were meant to curtail his own powers to deal with Russia, and the other countries included in the act — Iran and North Korea.

2 . Equalisation Levy


Context: The government is not considering extending the deadline for payment of Equalisation Levy by non-resident e-commerce players.

Background

  • Equalisation Levy was introduced in India in 2016, with the intention of taxing the digital transactions
  • EL was levied in 2016 on services in the nature of online advertisement/digital space provided by non-resident vendors to Indian resident customers. The EL was fixed at 6 percent and the Indian customer was required to deduct this at source and deposit with the government.
  • Through amendment in 2020 it expanded the scope to include other revenue streams of non-residents; the levy is at 2 percent for these new sources.

Equalisation Levy on Ecommerce Operator

  • In the 2020-21 Budget, the Government widened the ambit of the levy by including non resident e-commerce companies as well as non resident companies earning revenue from data collected of person residing in India or using IP address located in India.
  • The applicable tax rate is two per cent (plus a surcharge) on amount of consideration received/receivable by an e-commerce operator.
  • It came into effect from April 1. The deadline for payment of the first installment for April-June is July 7.
  • The tax would be levied on consideration received by e-commerce operators from online supply of goods or services.
  • The levy is seen aimed at taxing foreign companies which have a significant local client base in India but were billing them through their offshore units, effectively escaping the country’s tax system.

About the Issue

  • A lobby group representing U.S. technology giants said its members were not yet ready to make the first payment of the digital tax due this week, urging New Delhi to defer the move,
  • According to them the tax was “riddled with various ambiguities and interpretational concerns” and it wasn’t clear on what amount the companies needed to pay the levy.
  • Majority of the companies are yet to deposit the first installment of the tax. As per law, late-payment would attract interest at the rate of 1% per month or part of the month. Non-payment could result in a penalty equal to the amount of equalisation levy, along with interest 

3 . F1 Visa


Context: The United States has announced recently that international students might have to leave the country or risk deportation if their universities moved classes entirely online in the upcoming fall semester.

What do the new regulations by the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement mean for Indian students?

  • This means that the Indians currently enrolled in schools or programmes that are entirely online for the fall semester will have to come back home. They can stay back only if they take alternative steps such as a move to a school that offers “in-person instruction” (read contact classes) or choose “appropriate medical leave”.
  • Students, who had come back to India after the pandemic forced American campuses to shut down, will not be permitted to enter the US if their classes are entirely online.
  • The same applies to prospective (or new) students who were going to join in the fall semester.
  • Students attending schools offering “normal in-person classes” can stay, but they cannot take more than “one class or three credit hours online”.
  • The university or college will have to “certify” to the US government that “the student is not taking an entirely online course load for the fall 2020 semester, and that the student is taking the minimum number of online classes required to make normal progress in their degree programme”.
  • This exemption does not apply to F-1 visa students in English language training programmes or M-1 visa students, who are not permitted to enroll in any online courses.
  • International students with F-1 visas pursue academic coursework and students with M-1 visa pursue vocational coursework while studying in the US.

Why has the US government announced these changes after giving international students the flexibility to take more online classes during campus shutdown?

  • International students in the US are required to do most of their learning through contact classes. The pandemic and the subsequent campus shutdowns forced the government to provide temporary exemptions for international students to take more online classes. However, these exemptions were made only for the spring and summer semesters.
  • The Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP), under the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has not stated the reasons behind revisiting the above exemptions.
  • The need is to resume the carefully balanced protections implemented by federal regulations as many universities and colleges are planning to reopen for the fall semester.
  • Some are seeing this as a pressure tactic to get universities to reopen for the fall semester.

How will this affect international enrollment across US universities?

  • US universities have already made admission offers to international students.
  • The current announcement could encourage prospective students to defer their joining to the next semester.
  • As for the active or enrolled students, they may even consider dropping a semester.
  • Indians are the second-largest group of international students in the US, after the Chinese.

What options do Indian students enrolled in US schools have before them?

  • Indian students can put pressure on the individual universities and the international student offices housed in those universities for them to do two things:
    • either create a structure that complied with the three different requirements that ICE has given
    • Or ask the universities to lobby extensively for this measure to be rescinded and take this to court, where there’s a big chance it will be contested.

4 . Permanent Commission for Women officers


Context : The Supreme Court on Tuesday allowed a one-month extension to the government to implement its February 17 judgment to grant permanent commission/command posts to eligible women officers in the armed forces.

Background of the case

  • The induction of women officers in the Army started in 1992. They were commissioned for a period of five years in certain chosen streams such as Army Education Corps, Corps of Signals, Intelligence Corps, and Corps of Engineers. Recruits under the Women Special Entry Scheme (WSES) had a shorter pre-commission training period than their male counterparts who were commissioned under the Short Service Commission (SSC) scheme.
  • In 2006, the WSES scheme was replaced with the SSC scheme, which was extended to women officers. They were commissioned for a period of 10 years, extendable up to 14 years. Serving WSES officers were given the option to move to the new SSC scheme, or to continue under the erstwhile WSES. They were to be however, restricted to roles in streams specified earlier — which excluded combat arms such as infantry and armoured corps.
  • While male SSC officers could opt for permanent commission at the end of 10 years of service, this option was not available to women officers. They were, thus, kept out of any command appointment, and could not qualify for government pension, which starts only after 20 years of service as an officer. The first batch of women officers under the new scheme entered the Army in 2008.

The battle in the courts

  • In 2003, a PIL was filed before the Delhi High Court for grant of permanent commission (PC) to women SSC officers in the Army. Another writ petition was filed by Major Leena Gurav on October 16, 2006, primarily to challenge the terms and conditions of service imposed by circulars earlier that year, and to seek PC for women officers.
  • In September 2008, the Defence Ministry passed an order saying PC would be granted prospectively to SSC women officers in the Judge Advocate General (JAG) department and the Army Education Corps (AEC). This circular was challenged before the Delhi High Court by Major Sandhya Yadav and others on the ground that it granted PC only prospectively, and only in certain specified streams.
  • The High Court heard the 2003, 2006, and 2008 challenges together, and passed its judgment in 2010. Women officers of the Air Force and Army on SSC who had sought permanent commission but were not granted that status, would be entitled to PC at par with male SSC officers, it ruled. However, this benefit was only available to women officers in service who had instituted proceedings before the High Court, and had retired during the pendency of the writ petitions. Women officers who had not attained the age of superannuation for permanently commissioned officers would be reinstated with all consequential benefits.
  • The government challenged the order in the Supreme Court, and even though the High Court judgment was not stayed, the Defence Ministry did not implement those directions. While the proceedings were on, the government passed an order in February 2019 for the grant of PC to SSC women officers in eight streams of the Army, in addition to the JAG and AEC, which had been opened up in 2008. But they would not be offered any command appointments, and would serve only in staff posts.
  • During the hearing, the government came up with a proposal whereby women officers of up to 14 years of service would be granted permanent commission in line with the letter of February 2019. Women officers with more than 14 years of service would be permitted to serve for up to 20 years without being considered for PC, but would retire with pension, and those with more than 20 years of service would be released with pensionary benefits immediately.

Order and its implications

  • The government put forth other arguments before the Supreme Court to justify the proposal on the grounds of permanent commission, grants of pensionary benefits, limitations of judicial review on policy issues, occupational hazards, reasons for discrimination against women, SSC as a support cadre, and rationalization on physiological limitations for employment in staff appointments.
  • The apex court has rejected these arguments, saying they are “based on sex stereotypes premised on assumptions about socially ascribed roles of gender which discriminate against women”. It has also said that it only shows the need “to emphasise the need for change in mindsets to bring about true equality in the Army”.
  • The SC has done away with all discrimination on the basis of years of service for grant of PC in 10 streams of combat support arms and services, bringing them on a par with male officers. It has also removed the restriction of women officers only being allowed to serve in staff appointments, which is the most significant and far-reaching aspect of the judgment.
  • It means that women officers will be eligible to tenant all the command appointments, at par with male officers, which would open avenues for further promotions to higher ranks for them: if women officers had served only in staff, they would not have gone beyond the rank of Colonel.
  • It also means that in junior ranks and career courses, women officers would be attending the same training courses and tenanting critical appointments, which are necessary for higher promotions.
  • The implications of the judgment will have to be borne by the human resources management department of the Army, which will need to change policy in order to comply.
  • But the bigger shift will have to take place in the culture, norms, and values of the rank and file of the Army, which will be the responsibility of the senior military and political leadership. After the Supreme Court’s progressive decision, they have no choice but to bite the proverbial bullet.

5 . Darbuk-Shyok-Daulat Beg Oldi (DSDBO) road


Context : Defence Minister Rajanth Singh on Tuesday directed the Border Roads Organsiation (BRO) that work on the strategic Darbuk-Shyok-Daulat Beg Oldi (DSDBO) road be completed by October, a defence source said. This was conveyed at a meeting to review the progress of the construction activities in border areas with BRO Director General Lt. Gen. Harpal Singh.

About Darbuk-Shyok-Daulat Beg Oldi (DSDBO) road

  • DBO is the northernmost corner of Indian territory in Ladakh, in the area better known in Army parlance as Sub-Sector North.
  • DBO has the world’s highest airstrip, originally built during the 1962 war but abandoned until 2008, when the Indian Air Force (IAF) revived it as one of its many Advanced Landing Grounds (ALGs) along the LAC, with the landing of an Antonov An-32.
  • In August 2013, the IAF created history by landing one of its newly acquired Lockheed Martin C-130J-30 transport aircraft at the DBO ALG, doing away thereafter with the need to send helicopters to paradrop supplies to Army formations deployed along the disputed frontier.

Importance

  • Its strategic importance is that it connects Leh to DBO, virtually at the base of the Karakoram Pass that separates China’s Xinjiang Autonomous Region from Ladakh.
  • The DSDBO highway provides the Indian military access to the section of theTibet-Xinjaing highway that passes through Aksai Chin. The road runs almost parallel to the LAC at Aksai Chin, the eastern ear of erstwhile Jammu and Kashmir state that China occupied in the 1950s, leading to the 1962 war in which India came off worse.
  • There are additional strategic considerations in the area.
    • To the west of DBO is the region where China abuts Pakistan in the Gilgit-Baltistan area, once a part of the erstwhile Kashmir principality.
    • This is also the critical region where China is currently constructing the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) in Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir (PoK), to which India has objected.
    • As well, this is the region where Pakistan ceded over 5,180 sq km of PoK to China in 1963 under a Sino-Pakistan Boundary Agreement, contested by India.

Issues with China

  • The DSDBO’s emergence seemingly panicked China, evidenced by the 2013 intrusion by the PLA into the nearby Depsang Plains, lasting nearly three weeks.
  • DBO itself is less than 10 km west of the LAC at Aksai Chin. A military outpost was created in DBO in reaction to China’s occupation of Aksai Chin, and is at present manned by a combination of the Army’s Ladakh Scouts and the paramilitary Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP). Both forces regularly patrol the LAC.

Construction of the Road

  • DSBO is an all weather road. What makes the DSDBO an “all-weather” road is the 37 prefabricated military truss bridges along it. Previously an old road, largely a track, existed along the same alignment as the pucca road, but was practically unusable during summer due to the flooding of the snow-fed Shyok river – or River of Death – and its tributaries, including the Chip Chap, Galwan, and Chang Chenmo that crisscross it.
  • The Shyok river itself is a tributary of the Indus, flowing through northern Ladakh and Gilgit-Baltistan. It eventually re-joins the Indus at Keris, east of Skardu.
  • In October 2019, Defence Minister Singh inaugurated a 500-m-long Bailey Bridge on the road. The bridge is named after Colonel Chewang Rinchen, an Indian Army hero from Ladakh. Located at 14,650 ft, it is believed to be the world’s highest such bridge.

6 . Herd Immunity


Context : A new study published in The Lancet has concluded that herd immunity against Covid-19 is difficult to achieve at this stage, while a separate commentary describes it as unachievable. The conclusion is based on estimates of seroprevalence for the entire Spanish population.

What is herd immunity?

  • Herd immunity refers to a situation when a certain percentage of the population have become immune to a certain disease-causing pathogen, thus preventing the infection from spreading to the rest of the population. While the concept is most commonly used in the context of vaccination, herd community can also be reached when enough people have become immune after being infected.
  • The premise is that if a certain percentage is immune, members of that group can no longer infect another person. This breaks the chain of infection through the community (“herd”) and prevents it from reaching those who are the most vulnerable.

About the Lancet Study

  • It is a large-scale seroepidemiological study, and concluded that just five per cent of the Spanish population has developed antibodies in response to SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19. This implies that an estimated 95 per cent continues to be susceptible to the virus.
  • The study, which included 66,805 participants, was conducted between April 27 and May 11. It found that seroprevalence for the entire country was 5% by the point-of-care test and 4.6% by immunoassay. In seven provinces in the central part of Spain, including Madrid, seroprevalence was “greater than 10 percent”; and in provinces along the coast, seroprevalence was greater than 5% only in Barcelona.
  • In age-specific findings, “according to the point-of-care test, seroprevalence was 1.1 percent in infants younger than 1 year and 3.1 percent in children aged 5-9 years, increasing with age until plateauing around 6 percent in people aged 45 years or older”.

What are the implications of the study?

  • While a seroprevalence study largely provides information only about previous exposure to the virus, this study strengthens the line of argument that in the absence of treatment or a vaccine against Covid-19, achieving herd immunity at this stage is not possible.
  • According to the study herd immunity is difficult to achieve without accepting the collateral damage of many deaths in the susceptible population and overburdening of health systems,” it states.
  • Beyond Spain, the study sends signals to other countries: that even in countries that have reported high prevalence of Covid-19, the pandemic is far from coming to an end; therefore, these countries have to be cautious about easing of restrictions.

Why does the study suggest that herd immunity is difficult?

  • At the beginning of the pandemic, the United Kingdom had hinted at a strategy that would allow the novel coronavirus to infect 60 per cent of the country’s population so that a degree of herd immunity could be achieved.
  • Now, the data from Spain shows that in a country that has reported community transmission, only an estimated 5% have developed antibodies in response to the virus. Hence the conclusion.
  • In their commentary, the German virologists have raised two important issues: At present, immunity after SARS-CoV-2 infection is thought to be incomplete and temporary, lasting only several months to a few years; second, it is unknown whether these patients are protected by other immune functions, such as cellular immunity.

7. Facts for Prelims


Watershed Principle

  • Watershed is the land area that drains into a watercourse like a river, lake or aquifer.
  • The McMahon Line was drawn on the watershed principle — a well-established international norm for border demarcation.
  • Many countries have settled their boundaries on the watershed principle.

Golden birdwing: India’s largest butterfly

  • A Himalayan butterfly named golden birdwing is now India’s largest butterfly with a wingspan of 194 mm, the female of the species is marginally larger than the male golden birdwing (Troides aeacus). Male only has a wingspan of 106 mm.
  • Previous record was holded by the southern birdwing for 88 years with a wing span of 190 mm that Brigadier William Harry Evans, a British military officer and lepidopterist, recorded in 1932.
  • The smallest is the Quaker (Neopithecops zalmora) with a wingspan of 18 mm and forewing length of 8 mm.
  • The new measurements of this and 24 other species of butterflies were published in the latest issue of Bionotes, a quarterly newsletter for research on life forms