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CURRENT AFFAIRS 07-08-2018

Brexit Negotiations and the challenges

Relevancy

  • GS Mains Paper- 2, International Relations

Why in news?

  • British PM Theresa May has successfully got her Brexit plans approved by the parliament after much effort.
  • She is currently lobbying hard with other European leaders to push through her proposals despite several challenges.

What about the border disputes within Ireland?  

  • The Republic of Ireland is an independent country and also a EU member, while the Northern Ireland is an autonomous territory within the UK.
  • Because of the sheer volume of trade and the complicated cultural ties between the two Irelands, disrupting the open borders is socially and economically risky.
  • As Brexit is being pushed forward for stronger border controls between UK and the EU, the Irish border question has become very complicated.
  • “U.K., EU and Republic of Ireland” are principally against hard borders between “Republic of Ireland” and “Northern Ireland”.
  • In fact, the soft borders between the two territories is vital for the sustenance of the “1998 – Good Friday Agreement”, which end decades of bloodshed.
  • But a soft or open border between the two Irelands would mean some border control has to be placed between “Northern Ireland and rest of UK”.
  • But the “Northern Ireland” leaders have asserted that they are not ready to accept any solution that would treat them separately from the rest of UK.

What is the role that EU is playing in this context?

  • EU proposed for “Northern Ireland” to remain in a common regulatory area with similar status as “Republic of Ireland” in the EU.
  • But this was rejected outright by the UK, which came up with a counter proposal for a temporary customs arrangement to avoid hard borders.
  • Under this clause (called Irish Backstop), the entire UK would remain within the EU customs union for a while, even after exiting EU’s single Market.
  • While the EU seemed unenthusiastic initially, its chief negotiator Mr. Michel Barnier recently suggested a positive note in regard.

What are the limitations?

  • UK seeks to retain its proposed temporary arrangement with the UK until a permanent solution is found to the Irish question.
  • But such an arrangement would make it impossible for Britain to establish “Free Trade Agreements” with other countries till its expiry.
  • Further, EU has also largely been grumpy due to UK’s intention of wanting to retain free trade in goods alone while seeking to curb free flow of services, people and capital.
  • Notably, the UK proposal for the EU & UK to collect tariff on each other’s behalf wherever needed has not got a positive response from EU.
  • These multiple constrains might prove really difficult to address.

Dispute Settlement Mechanism in WTO

 

Relevancy

  • GS Mains Paper-2
  • International Organizations, Bilateral Relations

Why in news?

  • The World Trade Organisation is in news because of the crisis WTO is in for ensuring a legitimate dispute settlement mechanism.
  • The changes in the global trade regime and the multilateral institutions necessitate a greater role for the developing world.

Why trade organization?

  • With the coming of Bretton Woods institutions (World Bank and IMF) came new financial trade order which demanded a trade organisation at the international level.
  • It became necessary for the regulation of the international monetary system.
  • It was also needed to establish multilateral rules for the settlement of trade disputes.
  • Adherence to the rules was expected to serve as an important domestic incentive for governments.
  • It would allow them to resist protectionist demands and provide for greater legal certainty.
  • The World Trade Organisation (WTO) was created primarily to address these demands.

What has been the role of US with respect to WTO?

  • The US’s push for the creation of WTO was mainly to pursue its own commercial interests.
  • The U.S. has never truly embraced the idea of a multilateral system in which its leadership could be contested.
  • Evidently the US is isolating itself from NAFTA, TPP, NATO and UNESCO in the recent times.
  • In the trade negotiations too, the U.S. put forward excessive demands that countries are unprepared to meet.
  • So the current crisis with the WTO dispute settlement system largely follows this unequal power formula.

Why the crisis with WTO?

  • The nature of the trade disputes is now increasingly getting hyper technical.
  • Despite this, the WTO currently faces a trade dispute settlement crisis.
  • The U.S. has systematically blocked the appointment of new Appellate Body members (judges).
  • This has impeded the work of the WTO appeal mechanism.
  • It is under great stress with only four working members out of seven normally serving office.
  • If no appointment is made, the mechanism would be destroyed by December 2019.
  • It would be left with only one remaining member to tackle a massive number of disputes.
  • But the Appellate Body requires a core of three members to decide a dispute.

What are the other causes of concern?

  • It is to be noted that the WTO dispute settlement mechanism is not a world trade court. So logically, the process remains political and diplomatic.
  • WTO members are thus concerned over the politicisation of the Appellate Body appointment and reappointment process.
  • There is also a concern with the quasi-attribution of permanent Appellate Body seats to the U.S. and the European Union (EU).
  • Besides, there is concern over the possibility of China finding its way to have a permanent seat.
  • Cases – Some Appellate Body members continue to hear cases which have been assigned to them during their tenure.
  • The U.S. has persistently attacked this practice.
  • However, the blame lies on the U.S. itself, for delay in filling up of vacancies and reappointment of members.
  • This is indicative of the fact that the US is deliberately pushing the WTO legal mechanism for deterioration.

What is China’s prospect?

  • Despite limitations ensured by US and EU, China has largely benefited from the rules-based WTO system.
  • It might well be the new WTO leader in the coming future.
  • China’s growing assertiveness, in fact, may be the reason for the U.S.’s hard measures.
  • Its emerging power and the impact of its commercial domination on other economies are evident.
  • But how far will China’s legitimacy be, among other trading members, remains largely uncertain.

What is the way forward?

  • The world has changed and multilateral institutions now have to embed these changes.
  • The current WTO crisis could be a battle to retain control over a Western-centric organisation.
  • It is high time for emerging economies and the developing world to have a greater say.
  • They should establish their role in shaping the much needed multilateralism and its institutions.

Amendments to the Prevention of Corruption Act – 1988 passed

 

Relevancy

  • GS Mains Paper-2
  • Government Policies and Interventions

Why in news?

  • Recently the parliament passed the crucial amendments to the “Prevention of Corruption Act – 1988”, to give more teeth to the anti-graft law.

How did the amendment come up?

  • The Prevention of Corruption (Amendment) Bill, 2013 was sent to a Parliamentary Standing Committee for discussions.
  • The committee gave its report in 2014, the Law Commission subsequently came up with an extensive report on the same in 2015.
  • A Select Committee of Rajya Sabha studied the amendments and finalised its recommendations in August 2016, and then a new bill was drafted.
  • The current bill i.e, “Prevention of Corruption (Amendment) Bill, 2018” was passed by both houses of the parliament recently.

What are the important aspects of the new bill?

  • The new bill describes bribe as an “undue advantage”, on the lines of “United Nations Convention against Corruption”, which India ratified in 2011.
  • Any “gratification” other than legal remuneration mostly official salaries and perks received by a public servant can be construed as an undue advantage.
  • Notably, “Gratification” was stated to include things that can’t be measured in terms of money, as well as “gifts”.
  • As the scope for investigating agencies to misuse the vast provisions to harass public servants is high, the need for precautions was stressed.
  • The new law seeks to punish collusive bribe givers too with up to 7 years in jail and further fined accordingly.
  • Further, the Select Committee wanted courts to decide the minimum punishment for bribe givers on the merits of the specific case.
  • In contrast to collusive bribe givers, the bill states that ones who are forced to bribe (coerced bribe givers) to access services shall not be prosecuted.
  • Coerced bribe givers are required to inform the officials of the same within a week’s time since the bribe was given to gain the exemption.
  • As the situation might not be favourable for all coerced bribe givers to intimate officials within a week, some MPs voiced that the time needs to be extended.
  • Further, activists have warned that the government officials might delay providing services till 7 days from the receipt of bribe to escape being reported.

What are the other aspects?

  • Earlier, the punishment for corruption was “a minimum of 6 years, which was extendable up to 3 years fine”.
  • This has been enhanced to a minimum of 3 years, which is extendable up to 7 years with fine, which can go up to 10 years for a repeat offender”.
  • Under the new bill, public servants processing assets disproportionate to his/her legal sources of income will be deemed to have committed a crime.
  • Further, law enforcers have been empowered to immediately attach such property of a public servant, until a proper explanation is received.

What are the issues?

  • While it is desirable for corruption cases to be concluded between two and four years from the date of filing the case, it usually gets very delayed.
  • The new law mandates pre-certification by a “competent authority” for prosecuting government functionaries at all levels, in order to avoid misuse.
  • As this immunity was earlier available only to officials of the level of Joint Secretary and above, this is likely to slow down prosecution.
  • Nonetheless, as a maximum of 3 months time has been set for approval/denial of permission for prosecution, the government claims it won’t slow cases.

1994 Verdict: Mosques aren’t essential to Islam

 

Relevancy

  • GS Mains Paper-2, Judiciary

What is the issue?

  • The Supreme Court in the “Ismail Faruqui vs. Union of India Case – 1994” ruled that the Mosques are not fundamental to Islam.
  • However there are inherent flaws in such a notion and the subsequent verdict that needs to be reviewed.

What are the flaws in the notion and the verdict?

  • The 1994 case verdict by Supreme Court stated that mosque is not essential to Islam and that Namaz (prayer) by Muslims can be offered even in the open.
  • The citation mentioned in the verdict was based on “Dinshaw Mulla’s Principles of Mahomedan Law” published in early 20th
  • But a close reading of Mulla’s principles makes it clear that his view on Mosques is not based on Islamic scriptures but rather on judicial precedence.
  • In other words, the Faruqui judgment wrongly invoked Mulla’s principle and suppressed the Madras HC verdict on “essential practices doctrine”.
  • Notably, the doctrine states that “what constitutes the essential part of a religion is primarily to be ascertained with reference to religious texts only”.
  • This view was elaborated further by the Supreme Court in 1972 to include practices which are regarded by the community as a part of its religion.

What are the other polarizing implications?

  • Firstly, it was wrong for the Supreme Court to have opined on the theological aspects of Islam when it could’ve ruled merely on technical grounds alone.
  • Further, while the apex court’s verdict states that Muslims can offer namaz in the open, they are prevented by right-wing outfits when they do so.
  • Also, the Faruqui verdict had barred Muslims from offering prayers at the disputed site (at Ayodhya), while not restricting the Hindus from the same.
  • This is in violation of Article 15 of the Constitution that debars the state from discriminating against any citizen on the ground of religion among others.

What is the importance of mosques to Islam?

  • The first act of the Prophet after migrating to Medina was to establish a mosque, demonstrating that mosques weren’t mere ritualism.
  • They were considered “spiritual, humanitarian and educational centres open to all people irrespective of their social, financial or racial status, or gender”.
  • Further, the Koran lists the qualities of people who are allowed to maintain mosques in order to ensure that its sanctity is maintained.
  • Also, some authentic Islamic scriptures quote the Prophet as stating “Prayer in congregation [inside a mosque] is 27 times more meritorious than prayer performed individually”.

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