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15th January Current Affairs

Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) and India

(GS-II: Important International institutions, agencies and fora, their structure, mandate)

In News:

South Korea has said that it regrets India’s absence from the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) and hopes to see New Delhi rejoin the agreement.

When did it come into force?

The RCEP came into effect on January 1, 2022, marking the formation of the world’s largest free trade zone in terms of trade volume.

Why did India not join?

India withdrew from the RCEP in 2019 largely because of concerns it would open it up to Chinese goods amid an already wide trade imbalance with China, and the failure of the agreement to adequately open up to services.

Need for India’s presence in RCEP:

India had “a crucial role” to play in helping the region build an inclusive architecture at a time of increasing global instability.

Such trade pacts will also give Indian companies a platform to showcase their strengths across even larger markets.

Besides, Rising U.S.-China tensions were “deeply worrying” for the region with the pandemic resulting in “heightened tension”.

What is RCEP?

It is a trade deal between the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and China, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand.

Aims and Objectives of RCEP:

To lower tariffs, open up trade in services and promote investment to help emerging economies catch up with the rest of the world.

To help reduce costs and time for companies by allowing them to export a product anywhere within the bloc without meeting separate requirements for each country.

It also touches on intellectual property, but will not cover environmental protections and labour rights.

Significance:

RCEP will cover about 30% of global gross domestic product (GDP), worth $26.2 trillion (€23.17 trillion), and nearly a third of the world’s population, some 2.2 billion people.

Under RCEP, around 90% of trade tariffs within the bloc will eventually be eliminated.

RCEP will also set common rules around trade, intellectual property, e-commerce and competition.

Challenges ahead:

The lack of participation by the United States “allows Beijing to solidify its role as driver of economic growth in the region.”

Economic gains will take a long time to materialize.

While the big Asian economies will enjoy most of the spoils, RCEP may leave smaller countries within ASEAN at a disadvantage, as the trade deal doesn’t cover their major industries.

The least developed countries in Asia ― Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar ― currently benefit from inter-ASEAN trade, which could be “eroded” by RCEP trade.

The smaller ASEAN countries may also lose some of their benefits from trade preference programs that allow them to export tariff-free products outside of ASEAN, including South Korea and Japan.

Plea on Hate Speech in Supreme Court

(GS-III: Challenges to internal security through communication networks, role of media and social networking sites in internal security challenges, basics of cyber security; money-laundering and its prevention)

In News:

On January 12, 2022 , the Supreme Court of India agreed to hear petitions asking for legal action to be taken against the organisers of, and speakers at, the “Hardwar Dharma Sansad”.

What’s the issue?

During this Dharma Sansad, that had taken place between December 19 and 21, numerous speeches had been made.

These speeches ranged from open calls to violence (“… waging a war that would be more gruesome than 1857” or “if you want to eliminate their [i.e., Muslim] population, then kill them”), to the economic and social boycott of Muslims (“… there is no Muslim buyer here, so throw that [Muslim] vendor out”), and to dog-whistles, (such as drawing comparisons to the ethnic cleansing of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar).

Similar petitions in the Court:

Two petitions have been filed in the Supreme Court on hate speeches in the recent past.

One petition asked the court to issue directions for action in such cases.

The second plea sought special provisions, insisting that the IPC wasn’t enough to deal with hate speech and rumour mongering.

Both petitions relied on a 2020 Supreme Court decision in Amish Devgun case where hate speech was linked to the violation of unity and fraternity and breach of human dignity, which constitutes an essential facet of the right to life and liberty under Article 21 of the Constitution.

What’s the issue?

The petitioners were concerned over concerted events in the recent past that targeted political, social and economic exclusion of Muslims through a series of rallies and hate speeches.

The petitioners sought implementation of guidelines on hate speech passed by Supreme Court in 2014 and on mob violence and lynching events in a subsequent decision in 2018.

What is Hate Speech?

Hate speech is an incitement to hatred against a particular group of persons marginalized by their religious belief, sexual orientation, gender, and so on.

The Law Commission, in its 267th report on hate speech, said such utterances have the potential to provoke individuals and society to commit acts of terrorism, genocide, and ethnic cleansing.

How is it treated in Indian law?

Sections 153A and 505 of the Indian Penal Code are generally taken to be the main penal provisions that deal with inflammatory speeches and expressions that seek to punish ‘hate speech’.

Why Hate Speech Must be curbed?

Internal Security: The Muzaffarnagar riots of 2013 was triggered by a fake video that incited communal passions.

Igniting extremist sentiments.

Mob lynching.

Misinformation and disinformation: Delhi Riots.

Measures:

The world’s biggest social media companies, including Facebook, Google, Twitter and ByteDance, are exploring an industry-wide alliance to curb fake news on their platforms in India.

The Election Commission of India must tie up with tech companies to identify the creator of such news.

Educating the end-users.

The government should bring out a policy framework on the possible harm due to the internet messaging platforms to engage at a deeper level.

Imposing hefty fines, like in Germany the Social media companies face fines of up to €50m if they persistently fail to remove illegal content from their sites.

Need of the hour:

Hate speech is a discursive process of pushing marginalised groups outside of social, economic and political spheres of society by disseminating hate propaganda and encouraging discrimination. At its most harmful, it is widely recognized as a precursor to ethnic cleansing.

Public authorities must be held accountable for dereliction of the duty of care and also for non-compliance with this court’s orders by not taking action to prevent vigilante groups from inciting communal disharmony and spreading hate against citizens of the country and taking the laws into their own hands.

Assam-Meghalaya border dispute

(GS-III: Internal security related issues)

In News:

Home Minister Amit Shah is expected to seal the final agreement to end the dispute in six areas of the Assam-Meghalaya boundary ahead of Meghalaya’s 50th Statehood Day celebration on January 21

What’s the dispute?

Assam and Meghalaya share an 885-km-long border. Meghalaya was carved out of Assam under the Assam Reorganisation Act, 1971, a law that it challenged, leading to disputes.

As of now, there are 12 points of dispute along their borders. These include the areas of Upper Tarabari, Gazang reserve forest, Hahim, Langpih, Borduar, Boklapara, Nongwah, Matamur, Khanapara-Pilangkata, Deshdemoreah Block I and Block II, Khanduli and Retacherra.

Langpih:

A major point of contention between Assam and Meghalaya is the district of Langpih in West Garo Hills bordering the Kamrup district of Assam.

Langpih was part of the Kamrup district during the British colonial period but post-Independence, it became part of the Garo Hills and Meghalaya.

Assam considers it to be part of the Mikir Hills in Assam. Meghalaya has questioned Blocks I and II of the Mikir Hills -now Karbi Anglong region – being part of Assam. Meghalaya says these were parts of erstwhile United Khasi and Jaintia Hills districts.

Efforts to solve the dispute:

Both Assam and Meghalaya have constituted border dispute settlement committees.

Recently, Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma and his Meghalaya counterpart Conrad Sangma decided to set up two regional committees to resolve the border disputes in a phased manner.

Sarma recently said five aspects were to be considered in resolving the border dispute. They are historical facts, ethnicity, administrative convenience, mood and sentiments of the people concerned and the contiguity of the land.

Assam and border issues:

The states of the Northeast were largely carved out of Assam, which has border disputes with several states. Assam’s border disputes with Arunachal Pradesh and Nagaland are pending in the Supreme Court.

Assam’s border disputes with Meghalaya and Mizoram are currently in the phase of resolution through negotiations. The border dispute with Mizoram recently turned violent, leading to intervention from the Centre.

National Youth Day

(GS-I: Indian culture will cover the salient aspects of Art Forms, Literature and Architecture from ancient to modern times)

In News:

January 12 marks the birthday of Swami Vivekananda.

Details:

National Youth Day is celebrated on this day. Celebrated since 1984.

The main objective is to promote rational thinking among the youth, believed to be the future of the country.

About Swami Vivekananda:

He was a true luminary, credited with enlightening the western world about Hinduism.

He was an ardent disciple of Sri Ramakrishna Paramahansa and a major force in the revival of Hinduism in India.

He pushed for national integration in colonial India, and his famous speech remains as the one that he gave in Chicago in 1893.

Early life- contributions:

Born in Kolkata on January 12, 1863 in Kolkata, Swami Vivekananda was known as Narendra Nath Datta in his pre-monastic life.

He is known to have introduced the Hindu philosophies of Yoga and Vedanta to the West.

Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose had called Vivekananda the “maker of modern India.”

In 1893, he took the name ‘Vivekananda’ after Maharaja Ajit Singh of the Khetri State requested him to do so, changing from ‘Sachidananda’ that he used before.

He formed the Ramakrishna Mission in 1897 “to set in motion a machinery which will bring noblest ideas to the doorstep of even the poorest and the meanest.”

In 1899, he established the Belur Math, which became his permanent abode.

He preached ‘neo-Vedanta’, an interpretation of Hinduism through a Western lens, and believed in combining spirituality with material progress.

Books written by him:

‘Raja Yoga’, ‘Jnana Yoga’, ‘Karma Yoga’ are some of the books he wrote.