1. TWO NEW SPECIES OF CYCAS FOUND
SOURCE – HINDU
RELEVANCE – GS PRELIMS (the words in bold)
- Research conducted on a tree found in the Acharya Jagadish Chandra Bose Indian Botanic Garden in West Bengal — the tree had, for years, been a puzzle to botanists and scientists — has revealed two new species of Cycas to the world.
- While initial studies on the lone tree revealed that it was Cycas , a gymnosperm, further research based on its morphological and anatomical characters led to the discovery of new species of Cycas pschannae and, later, Cycas dharmrajii in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.
- This discovery takes the number of Cycas species found in the country to 14.
- What makes the Cycas dharmrajii distinct from other Cycas found in the country is the well-defined 10 to 28 hook-like structures in the apex of the mega sporophyll (sporophyll are spore-bearing leaf-like female sex organ of the plant).
- The sporophylls of Cycas pschannae are characterised by the presence of two lateral horn-like structures.
- Cycas is a palm-like, evergreen plant .
- The plant body consists of a columnar aerial trunk with a crown of pinnately compound leaves as its top.
- Cycas evolved on the earth as the first seeded plants.
- They grow very slowly, adding only a few centimetres every year.
- Nearly 65% of Cycas are threatened but what makes the flora unique is that despite being a contemporary of the dinosaur, the genus continues to thrive.
- There are over 100 species of Cycas found across the globe.
- Cycas are one of the most ancient plants whose fossils date to the Jurassic period and are often referred to as “living fossils”.
- Cycas revoluta is the most commonly cultivated species of the Indian gardens.
- It is distributed in Japan, Australia, India, Indochina, China, Mauritius, Africa, Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Myanmar.
- In India, Cycas grows naturally in Orissa, Assam, Meghalaya, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Andaman and Nicobar Islands.
ECONOMIC IMPORTANCE OF CYCAS
- Cycas is used as a source of food in Japan, Australia, South East Asia, southern and eastern parts of India and some other countries. It is used in the preparation of starch and alcoholic drinks. The starch, extracted from its stem, is called ‘sago’.
- Cycas revoluta and C. circinalis plants are grown for ornamental purposes in various parts of the world.
- To relieve the headache, giddiness and sore throat, the seeds of Cycas revoluta are prepared in the form of a tincture and used.
2. NINE HIGH COURTS OPPOSE ALL-INDIA JUDICIAL SERVICE
SOURCE – HINDU
RELEVANCE – GS MAINS -II . STRUCTURE, ORGANIZATION AND FUNCTIONING OF THE EXECUTIVE AND THE JUDICIARY
- Nine High Courts have opposed a proposal to have an all-India service for the lower judiciary, eight have sought changes in the proposed framework and only two have supported the idea, a Law and Justice Ministry document says.
- The document, sent to all members of the parliamentary consultative committee on law and justice, also says that most of the 24 High Courts wanted control over the subordinate judiciary.
- The document says the High Courts of Andhra Pradesh, Bombay, Delhi, Gujarat, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Patna and Punjab and Haryana “have not favoured the idea of an All-India Judicial Service”.
- It said only the High Courts of Sikkim and Tripura have concurred with the proposal.
- The Allahabad, Chhattisgarh, Himachal Pradesh, Kerala, Manipur, Meghalaya, Orissa and Uttarakhand High Courts have suggested changes in the age at the induction level, qualifications, training and quota of vacancies to filled through the proposed service.
- Seeking to overcome the divergence of views, the government had recently suggested to the Supreme Court various options, including a NEET-like examination, to recruit judges to the lower judiciary.
- There were vacancies of 4,452 judges in subordinate courts in the country.
- The present government had given a fresh push to the long-pending proposal to set up the new service to have a separate cadre for the lower judiciary in the country.
- The idea was first mooted in the 1960s.
ALL – INDIA JUDICIAL SERVICE – THE HISTORY
- The proposal for an All-India Judicial Service was first suggested in the Chief Justices’ Conference in 1961 as a way to remove any scope for judicial or executive intervention in the appointments to the judiciary in the High Courts and the Supreme Court in India. The idea had to be shelved after some states and High Courts opposed it.
- The Constitution was amended in 1977 to provide for an AIJS under Article 312.
- The proposal was again floated by the ruling government in 2012 but the draft bill was shelved again after opposition from High Court Chief Justices who labeled this an infringement of their rights.
- The proposal for having an AIJS draws its support from the reports of the first, eighth and 11th law commissions.
- Even the Supreme Court is not averse to the idea. For, in two of its judgments in 1991 and 1993, it had recommended setting up of an all India judicial service.
ADVANTAGES OF ALL-INDIA JUDICIAL SERVICE
- The direct recruitment of judges from the entry level will be handled by an independent and impartial agency through an open competition thereby ensuring fair selection of incumbents.
- It would naturally help attract bright and capable young law graduates to the judiciary to take over as judges.
- For subordinate judicial officers it would ensure equitable service conditions besides providing them a wider field to prove their mettle.
- In this scheme of things, the measure of uniformity in the standards for selection will improve the quality of personnel in different High Courts, as one-third of the judges come there on promotion from the subordinate courts.
- Similarly, judges of the Supreme Court are drawn from the High Courts. In this process only persons of proven competence will preside over the benches of superior courts.
- Simultaneously, the quality of dispensation of justice will also improve considerably right from the bottom to the top.
- In addition, the objective of inducting an outside element in High Court benches can be achieved better and without any problem because a member of an all India judicial service will have no mental block about interstate transfers.
CRITICISM OF ALL-INDIA JUDICIAL SERVICE
- A district judge coming from a different linguistic region will face the problem of language in assessing and tackling the critical legal and other issues of facts, which will affect the quality of justice.
- The finances involved in the formation of such a judicial service.
- This would lead to an erosion of the control of the high courts over the subordinate judiciary, which would, in turn, affect the judiciary’s independence.
THE SOLUTION OF THE CRITICISM
- Language may be a problem but that should not be an argument for straightaway rejecting the idea. Young recruits from outside can easily learn the local language and adapt themselves to local conditions unlike older people.
- Nor should the finances involved in the formation of such a judicial service pose any problem. In fact, the amounts collected as court fees, at least, should be spent for this purpose instead of being utilised as a source of general revenue of the States.
3. CHINA’S RCEP PUSH VEILS GRAND PLAN
SOURCE – HINDU
RELEVANCE – GS MAINS -II .AGREEMENTS INVOLVING INDIA AND/OR AFFECTING INDIA’S INTERESTS
- Community social media platform ‘LocalCircles’ recently did a survey on the Indian consumer’s perception about items imported from China.
- The results gave a peek into the minds of Indian consumers. It showed 52% of participants were of the opinion that for the same product, the quality of a ‘Made in India’ version was superior to the one from China. However, 83% said they buy Chinese products as those items were the cheapest.
- The poll assumes significance as it comes amid ongoing negotiations for a mega-regional Free Trade Agreement (FTA) among 16 Asia-Pacific nations, including China and India.
- Known as the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), the proposed FTA, aims to boost goods trade by eliminating most tariff and non-tariff barriers — a move that is expected to provide the region’s consumers greater choice of quality products at affordable rates.
- It also seeks to liberalise investment norms and do away with services trade restrictions.
- The RCEP is billed as an FTA between the 10-member ASEAN bloc and its six FTA partners — India, China, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand.
- When inked, it would become the world’s biggest free trade pact. This is because the 16 nations account for a total GDP (Purchasing Power Parity, or PPP basis) of about $50 trillion (or about 40% of the global GDP) and house close to 3.5 billion people (about half the world’s population).
- India (GDP-PPP worth $9.5 trillion and population of 1.3 billion) and China (GDP-PPP of $23.2 trillion and population of 1.4 billion) together comprise the RCEP’s biggest component in terms of market size.
- The RCEP ‘guiding principles and objectives’ state that the “negotiations on trade in goods, trade in services, investment and other areas will be conducted in parallel to ensure a comprehensive and balanced outcome.”
- However, it is learnt that China, using its influence as the global leader in goods exports, has been deploying quiet diplomacy to ensure consistent focus on attempts to obtain commitments on elimination of tariffs on most traded goods.
- China is keen on an agreement on a ‘high level’ of tariff liberalisation — eliminating duties on as much as 92% of traded products. However, India’s offer is to do away with duties on only 80% of the lines and that too, with a longer phase-out period for Chinese imports (ie, about 20 years, against 15 for other RCEP nations).
DUTY IMPACT ON INDIA
- A highly ambitious level of tariff elimination without enough flexibility would affect India the most on the goods side.
- This is because in the RCEP group (except Myanmar, Cambodia and Lao PDR), India has the highest average ‘Most Favoured Nation (MFN) tariff’ level at 13.5%. MFN tariff, as per the WTO, refers to normal, non-discriminatory tariff charged on imports — excluding preferential tariffs under FTAs and other schemes or tariffs charged inside quotas.
- India is the only participant that has a high level of merchandise trade deficit. Its trade deficit with RCEP countries is also more than half its global trade deficit.
- The proposed FTA, owing to the possibility of elimination of duties across most sectors, could lead to a surge in inflow of low-priced goods, mainly from China.
- This would result in the contraction of domestic market and consequent downsizing/closure of operations, as well as job losses.
- Also, since India already has separate FTAs with the 10-member ASEAN bloc, Japan and Korea, so on account of the RCEP, India may not gain much on the goods side with existing FTA partners.
- India is also negotiating separate FTAs with Australia and New Zealand. However, be it through a separate FTA or via RCEP, India’s gains on the goods segment from Australia and New Zealand will be limited as MFN tariff levels of those two countries are already low.
- China is the only RCEP country with which India neither has an FTA, nor is in talks for one. Therefore, Indian industry sees RCEP as an indirect FTA with China, especially since, given sensitivities involved, there could be a hue and cry if the India opts for a direct FTA with that country.
TRADE DEFICIT WOES
- Even without a bilateral FTA, India was already affected by China’s overhang of excess capacity in sectors including metals, chemicals and textiles.
- Goods imports from China have been far outpacing India’s shipments to that country (India’s exports are mainly troubled by China’s non-tariff barriers).
- This has led to goods trade deficit with China widening from just $1.1 billion in 2003-04 to a whopping $52.7 billion in 2015-16, though easing slightly to $51.1 billion in 2016-17.
- The RCEP is just one element of China’s grander plans for global dominance.
- In February, its foreign minister Wang Yi said, “We hope to … speed up the RCEP negotiation process and strive for an early agreement, so as to contribute to realising the greater common goal of building the Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific (FTAAP).”
- The FTAAP spans 21 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation countries, including the U.S. and China, but does not cover India (though it has sought to be an APEC member). With the U.S. withdrawing from the Trans Pacific Partnership — a mega-regional FTA not involving India and China — that similarly aimed to help establish the FTAAP, the path is clear for China to push ahead with this strategic initiative to its advantage through the RCEP.
- In May, Chinese Commerce Minister Zhong Shan said the RCEP “highly echoes the Silk Road spirit.” The Silk Road Economic Belt (on land) and the Maritime Silk Road (via the ocean) comprise China’s Belt and Road Initiative, that India had opposed on strategic grounds.
- The impact of the BRI — to which China has committed $1.4 trillion —on regional trade integration should also be seen in light of trade agreements such as the RCEP.
- Once completed, RCEP will also provide preferential access to each country’s markets.
- BRI could help China address some of its excess capacity in industries such as steel and cement, since infrastructure projects supported by the initiative would boost external demand for Chinese exports.
- The initiative could provide a means for Chinese industries with excess capacity to export equipment that is currently idle.
LESSONS FOR INDIA
- It is pertinent for India to note this larger picture even as it sees the RCEP as “a beacon of hope for free trade” and a pact offering “a positive and forward-looking alternative in the face of growing protectionism across the world.”
4. ONGC WINS MURUGAPPA GOLD CUP
SOURCE – HINDU
RELEVANCE – GS PRELIMS
- A seasoned ONGC put all its experience to fruitful effect by subduing Bengaluru HA 4-2 in the final of the 91st MCC-Murugappa Gold Cup all-India hockey tournament .
- ONGC went home richer by Rs. 5 lakh while Bengaluru had to be content with Rs. 2.5 lakh.