23&24, July 2017

Decommissioned submarine languishes in Chennai

  • She served the Indian Navy and the nation for over 36 years and could have become only the second submarine museum of the country. But since her decommissioning in 2010, the Russia-designed submarine INS Vagli has taken a tedious and uncertain course. She currently lies idle at the Chennai port.
  • The submarine, which was to be the centrepiece of the maritime heritage museum planned by the Tamil Nadu government in the tourist town of Mamallapuram, was expected to be displayed on a 30-acre stretch of land near the Shore Temple of the UNESCO-declared World Heritage group of monuments.
  • However, the inability of a contractor to mount the submarine on the intended site at Mamallapuram has forced the vessel to lie idle at the Chennai port.

A Sunderbans denizen staves off extinction

  • A critically endangered resident of the Sunderbans is set to get a new home, beginning a slow journey to recovery from a disastrous decline in the wild. It is more threatened than the Bengal tiger, but far less known.
  • Before winter this year, three fresh water ponds in the Sunderbans Tiger Reserve will house the rare Northern river terrapin (Batagur baska), whose presence in the wild in West Bengal and Odisha had declined to undetectable levels a decade ago.
  • Batagur baska, the 60-cm-long turtle that is presumed extinct in several Southeast Asian countries, is classified as critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature ( IUCN) in its Red List of threatened species. The tiger, by comparison, is endangered.

1.‘India’s approach to U.S. and China contrasts’

Source: The Hindu

The U.S. is largely sympathetic to the challenge that India faces in dealing with a territorially assertive China.

  • Given the nature of Sino-Indian disputes, India technically does not ask for our help because it does not need it. But it knows that Washington presents a sympathetic ear and that if there were to be wider a Sino-Indian crisis.
  • It is understandable that India more frequently and assertively tries to shape U.S. comments on Pakistan, given the nature of the U.S. relationship with Pakistan and the ways in which the U.S. has, by default, served as an intermediary in a crisis.

Doklam standoff

  • India is presently engaged in a major standoff with China at Doklam near the India-Bhutan-China tri-junction.
  • On the Western side, there has been a flare-up in tensions along the Line of Control (LoC) with Pakistan. While the India-China stand off began in June 16, the flare up on the LoC has been going on since the terror attack on the Army camp in Uri in September last year.
  • In the early hours after Uri, India was quite assertive in wanting the U.S. government to label this incident as a cross border attack from Pakistan, said Dr. White, who is now an Associate Professor and Fellow at the Johns Hopkins University.
  • While the U.S. was sympathetic to the Indian position, he said, “We wanted to do our own assessment of the attribution before we made a statement.”
  • That assessment took a few days following which the US Government could say it was an act of cross border groups from Pakistan and “US also communicated that in a certain way we hold Pakistan culpable for such activities on the basis of its negligence.”

Surgical strikes

  • On the surgical strikes on terror camps across the LoC after Uri attack, there was a general appreciation that the Indian surgical strike was calibrated and the messaging after the strike was crisp and careful.
  • Having said that he cautioned, “That said there remains a concern in Washington that India may have over interpreted its success and may believe that it can run a similar play next time with similar results.”

2.GST system is robust: Centre

Source: The Hindu

The Goods and Services Tax (GST) system is not exposed directly to the Internet and has a dedicated round-the-clock security operations command centre in its network against cyberthreats.

Securitization:

  • There was segregation of duties, least privilege access principles, Internet Protocol (IP) filtering and blocking of rogue IPs, resiliency at each layer, secure coding practices ensuring security of GST software development throughout Software Development Lifecycle, and at-rest and in-transit data encryption, the government said.
  • The data sharing mechanism ensures that any data transfer from the GST system is in encrypted format.
  • The system banks on thorough security testing and full-system vulnerability assessment and penetration testing of IT infrastructure, besides the apps used licensed tools and customised scripts, said the government.

What are the Security incidents?

  • According to the Indian Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT-In), a total of 44,679, 49,455, 50,362 and 27,482 cybersecurity incidents were observed during 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017 (till June), respectively, the government said in response to another query.
  • The types of cybersecurity incidents include phishing, scanning/probing, website intrusions and defacements, virus/malicious code, targeted attacks, ATM malware, ransomware and denial of service attacks among other threats.
  • The government had taken a series of measures to strengthen the cybersecurity infrastructure.
  • All financial institutions had been advised by CERT-In, through the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) to conduct an audit by empanelled auditors on a priority basis and take immediate steps accordingly.

Way ahead:

  • All organisations providing digital payment services have been mandated to report cyber security incidents to CERT-In expeditiously.
  • The government has also formulated a Cyber Crisis Management Plan for countering cyber attacks for implementation by all ministries and departments.

CERT-In

Indian Computer Emergency Response Team (ICERT)

CERT-In has been designated under Section 70B of Information Technology (Amendment) Act 2008 to serve as the national agency to perform the following functions in the area of cyber security:

  • Collection, analysis and dissemination of information on cyber incidents
  • Forecast and alerts of cyber security incidents
  • Emergency measures for handling cyber security incidents
  • Coordination of cyber incident response activities
  • Issue guidelines, advisories, vulnerability notes and whitepapers relating to information security practices, procedures, prevention, response and reporting of cyber incidents.

3.Mentally retarded adult not a child: SC

Source: The Hindu

A “mentally-retarded” adult cannot be considered a child and given refuge under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act of 2012, the Supreme Court.

What is the Case and What Lies Behind it?

  • The case before the court was that of a rape victim, whose biological age is 38 though medical reports conclude that her “mental age” is that of six-year-old.
  • The woman’s mother had moved the Supreme Court to expand the definition of the term ‘child’ in Section 2 (d) of the POCSO Act to embrace adults who are “mentally-retarded or extremely intellectually-challenged.

Biological age

  • The mother’s petition said the biological age of a person should not be the governing yardstick for POCSO, which seeks to protect children from sexual abuse, treat them with fragility and provide them gentle care throughout the criminal trial and swiftly punish the guilty.
  • The victim’s mother, based in Delhi, said any person, even an adult, who is incapable of understanding what is happening to her, is equal to a child.

Background:

  • A holistic interpretation of the term ‘child’ to include intellectually-vulnerable adults serves the basic purpose of the 2012 Act.
  • A Bench of Justices, in their separate judgments, agreed that a judge cannot take on the role of the legislator.
  • Judges only declare the law, while legislators make the law. It is not for the judge to become an adventurer and don the role of the lawmaker. It is not for the judge to decide “what the law ought to be instead of what the law is.”
  • Justice Misra said the definition of the term ‘child’ in Section 2(d) is exhaustive and includes only persons below the biological age of 18.
  • The 2012 Act recognises the phenomenon of “mental disability,” but confines its ambit to only the mental disability of minors.

Biological age:

Body age is a measurement of how old you are biologically based upon your health and fitness level as opposed to what your birth certificate indicates. For example, someone who is thirty-five years old may have a body age that is ten years older.

POSCO Act:

  • The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act (POCSO Act) 2012 was created in order to effectively address sexual abuse and sexual exploitation of children.
  • The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012 obtained the President’s assent on 19th June 2012.
  • It was notified in the Gazette of India as on 20th June, 2012.
  • The Act defines a child as any person below 18 years of age.
  • It defines different forms of sexual abuse, including penetrative and non-penetrative assault, as well as sexual harassment and use of child pornography.
  • It deems a sexual assault to be “aggravated” under certain circumstances, such as when the abused child is mentally ill/unwell.
  • It is also aggravated when the abuse is committed by a person in a position of trust or authority like a family member, police officer, teacher, or doctor.
  • The Act also assigns the police in the role of child protectors during the investigative process.

4.Why is Iran growing its presence in Iraq?

Source: The Hindu

What is Iran doing in Iraq?

  • After the U.S. withdrew its troops from Iraq in 2011, Baghdad became increasingly dependent on Tehran on various avenues, from trade to security, which raised Iran’s global profile.
  • Iran established a Shia corridor stretching from Tehran through Baghdad and Damascus to southern Lebanon where Hezbollah operates. But Iran’s strategic calculations came under threat when the Islamic State made inroads into north-western Iraq.

IS- Islamic State the Anti-Shia:

  • The IS, which is anti-Shia, captured Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, in June 2014 and was marching towards Baghdad. Had the IS taken over Baghdad, Iran would not only have lost a friendly regime, but also felt the heat of an anti-Shia jihadist group closer to its borders. Its focus immediately turned to building Shia militia groups, along with the Iraqi government, to fight the IS in Iraq.
  • These groups, known as Popular Mobilisation Unites, or Al-Hashd al-Shaabi, have played a major role in the liberation of Iraqi cities, such as Ramadi, Fallujah and Mosul, from IS rule.

How did Iran gain entry?

  • If there’s one country in West Asia that benefited from the United States’ 2003 invasion of Iraq, it was Iran.
  • For the Islamic Republic, which fought an eight-year-long war with Iraq in 1980-88, Saddam Hussein’s regime remained a security concern.
  • In the pre-Iraq war scenario, Syria was the only stable ally of Iran, but both countries were separated by a hostile Iraq.
  • Iran had started building influence inside Iraq through its cross-border cultural and religious links, but even that had limitations as the Saddam regime turned against Iraq’s Shias in the aftermath of the first Gulf War. The U.S.-led invasion removed this hostile regime and practically opened the gates of Iraq to an ambitious Iran ruled by Shia clergy.
  • Iraq is a Shia-majority country, which Saddam Hussein’s secular Ba’ath party ruled for decades with an iron fist.
  • When the post-Saddam Iraq held the country’s first free elections in 2005, Shia parties, most of which had had long-standing relations with Iran, rose to power. Ever since, Iran’s influence in Iraq has only grown — first as a counterforce to the American occupation and then as a security provider to the Iraqi government.

Why is Iraq crucial for Iran?

  • Iran doesn’t have many allies in a region which is dominated by hostile Sunni powers.
  • Iran counters this asymmetry in geopolitical leverage by building influence with non-state actors. Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shia militia, is one of its greatest strategic assets in West Asia. With a friendly government in Baghdad, Iran not only got a buffer between itself and the Sunni bloc, but also direct access to Syria, which has been a conduit for Iranian supplies for Hezbollah.
  • But in the immediate aftermath of the Iraq war, it was not clear whether Tehran would be able to successfully cultivate dominance in Iraq. The presence of over 1,00,000 U.S. soldiers posed a direct challenge to Iran’s ambitions.
  • The George Bush administration had also lumped Iran with Iraq and North Korea as the “axis of evil” and had threatened it with military action. Against that context, the Iranian strategy was to make the U.S. occupation costly. It supported Shia militias in Iraq’s south, while Sunni terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda in Iraq attacked both Shias and U.S. soldiers in the north. The Iranian strategy was partly successful as the U.S. eventually withdrew most of its troops from Iraq, but only after the invasion and the subsequent sectarian civil war ravaged the country.

Will Iran pull back?

  • Now that the Iraqi government has declared the defeat of the IS, will Iran withdraw its militias and let Baghdad run the country on its own? Given Iran’s strategic ambitions and the recent history of its dominance in Iraq, it’s unlikely to happen.
  • On the contrary, at a time when the U.S. and the Sunni monarchies in the Gulf are teaming up against Iran, Tehran would try to deepen its relations with countries such as Iraq and Syria and non-state militias such as Hezbollah and Hashd al-Shaabi.
  • Al-Shaabi, comprising some 40 militia groups that are loyal to Tehran, could translate its military influence into political clout, which will be crucial as Iraq goes to the polls next year. This explains why the Iraqi political leadership hardly expresses any views critical of Iran.

6.Iran and Iraq sign accord to boost military cooperation

Source: The Hindu

Iran and Iraq signed an agreement to step up military cooperation and the fight against “terrorism and extremism”, Iranian media report.

Iranian Defence Minister Hossein Dehghan and his Iraqi counterpart Erfan al-Hiyali signed a memorandum of understanding which also covered border security, logistics and training, the official news agency IRNA reported.

Significance:

  • Extending cooperation and exchanging experiences in fighting terrorism and extremism, border security, and educational, logistical, technical and military support are among the provisions of this memorandum,” IRNA reported after the signing of the accord in Tehran.
  • Iran-Iraq ties have improved since Iran’s long-time enemy Saddam Hussein was toppled in 2003 and an Iraqi government led by Shia Muslims came to power. Iran is mostly a Shia nation.

US and Iran:

  • S. President Donald Trump has voiced concern over what he sees as growing Iranian influence in conflicts in Syria, Yemen and Iraq, where it is aligned with Shia fighters.
  • Tensions between Iran and the United States have heightened since the election of Mr. Trump, who has often accused Tehran of backing militant groups and destabilising the region.
  • The U.S. military has accused Iran of stoking violence in Iraq by funding, training and equipping militias. Iran denies this, blaming the presence of U.S. troops for the violence.

7.A mountain and a movement: the Save Western Ghats March

Source: The Hindu

Western Ghats:

  • This year marks the 30th anniversary of the remarkable but relatively little known ‘Save Western Ghats March’ , a response to the socio-ecological challenges the area grappled with.
  • The march was as much an exercise in envisioning the future as it was an acknowledgement of the past—of the extreme richness of this ancient mountain range that extends from River Tapti to Kanyakumari.
  • Straddling six states, from Gujarat to Kerala and Tamil Nadu, the 1600-odd kilometre-long Western Ghats is home to an astonishing diversity of life and supports innumerable human communities and cultures. It is an ecosystem that is 50 million years old; humans made an entry here only 12,000-15,000 years ago.

Home to hundreds

The beauty of the landscape is unmatched, endemism in the forests is high, and nearly 250 million people living in peninsular India are nourished by the many rivers that originate here.

The forests are also home to hundreds of globally threatened species, including rare and unique ones like the Malabar torrent toad, the Nilgiri langur, Wroughton’s free-tailed bat, the Nilgiri laughing thrush and many species of caecilians, the limbless amphibians.

Western Ghats Conservation:

  • The Western Ghats are recognised today as one of the world’s top 35 biodiversity hotspots and for very good reason. What the march did way back in 1987 was to offer a unique opportunity to understand the place and its people.
  • It was an exercise in creative activism that might also be considered prescient, predating as it did the international recognition the Ghats have achieved in the last three decades. The idea of a ‘biodiversity hotspot’ was first articulated only in 1988.
  • Conservation efforts in the Western Ghats have indeed been varied. The mountain range is dotted by a number of wildlife sanctuaries, national parks, tiger and elephant reserves and traditional sacred groves (devrai in Maharashtra, deverakadu in Kodagu and kavu in Kerala) that have existed for centuries.
  • These include the 1970s agitation to save Silent Valley in Kerala from a dam project, the large conservation research and action project initiated here under the aegis of the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF) a few years ago, and the much more recent (but mainly unsuccessful) effort to declare large parts of the ghats ecosensitive.

Unending troubles

Its richness, wealth and conservation efforts notwithstanding, the Western Ghats continue to host a whole range of serious and complex challenges:

  • Unregulated mining is ravaging large parts;
  • A number of rivers have been (and continue to be) dammed, Resulting in the loss of riverine ecosystems and the submergence of pristine forests;
  • A rapidly growing network of roads and rail lines is fragmenting forests;
  • There is habitat loss due to urbanisation;
  • Agriculture, plantations and the introduction of exotics is leading to a rise in human-wildlife conflict; and
  • Tribal communities continue to be marginalised with the loss of access to resources and livelihoods.

It is estimated that only a third of the mountain range is still under natural vegetation, and this too is highly fragmented and degraded. And in spite of this state of affairs, there is much here to be learnt and found.

Ex:

  • Frogs are an excellent example of this. In a phenomenon that has taken many by surprise, more than 160 new species of amphibians, mainly frogs, have been discovered in the Western Ghats in the last decade. Fourteen new species of dancing frogs were discovered in 2014, and 12 new frogs have already been discovered this year.
  • The frogs, both old and new, could be hugely useful for humans too; researchers, for instance, have recently found an antimicrobial peptide on the skin of the frog Hydrophylax bahuvistara that might be the next medicine for flu.
  • Frogs are also one of the most sensitive creatures and among the first affected by changes such as forest loss or climate change. They are critical ecological indicators and their discovery in larger numbers only suggests we have a larger responsibility.



Leave a Reply