Bill Seeking Death Penalty For Rape of Minors
Why in News
The Lok Sabha passed the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (Amendment) Bill, 2019, which seeks death penalty for aggravated sexual assault on children.
News in Detail
The bill aims to make offences against children gender-neutral.
To curb child pornography, the Bill provides that those who use a child for pornographic purposes should be punished with imprisonment up to five years and fine.
However, in the event of second or subsequent conviction, the punishment would be up to seven years and fine.
The Bill defines child pornography as any visual depiction of sexually explicit conduct involving a child including photograph, video, digital or computer generated image indistinguishable from an actual child.
According to the amendment bill, those committing penetrative sexual assaults on a child below 16 years of age would be punished with imprisonment up to 20 years, which might extend to life imprisonment as well as fine.
In case of aggravated penetrative sexual assault, the bill increases the minimum punishment from ten years to 20 years, and the maximum punishment to death penalty.
Over 1,000 fast track courts will work for the speedy disposal of pending cases under POCSO and that 18 States have consented to set up fast track courts.
The amendment is expected to discourage the trend of child sexual abuse by acting as a deterrent due to strong penal provisions incorporated in the Act.
It intends to protect the interest of vulnerable children in times of distress and ensures their safety and dignity.
The amendment is aimed to establish clarity regarding the aspects of child abuse and punishment thereof.
About POCSO Act
The POCSO Act, 2012 was enacted to Protect the Children from Offences of Sexual Assault, Sexual harassment and pornography with due regard for safeguarding the interest and well-being of children.
The Act defines different forms of sexual abuse, including penetrative and non penetrative assault, as well as sexual harassment and pornography.
The Act deems a sexual assault to be “aggravated” under certain circumstances, such as when the abused child is mentally ill or 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 casts the police in the role of child protectors during the investigative process.
Indus Valley Inscriptions
Why in News
A recent research paper published in a Nature group journal claims that majority of the Indus Valley inscriptions were written logographically (by using word signs) and not by using phonograms (speech sounds units)
Significance of the Research
Discovered from nearly 4,000 ancient inscribed objects, including seals, tablets, ivory rods, pottery shards, etc., the Indus inscriptions are one of the most enigmatic legacies of the Indus Valley civilization which have not been deciphered due to the absence of bilingual texts, extreme brevity of the inscriptions, and ignorance about the language(s) encoded by Indus script.
The research work could serve as a basis in future for the deciphering of the script.
What’s in the Research
The research paper mainly focuses on understanding how Indus inscriptions conveyed meanings, rather than on deciphering what they conveyed.
For the study, the researchers have used the digitized corpus of Indus inscriptions compiled by well-known epigraphist and Indus scholar Iravatham Mahadevan.
They studied it using computational analyses and various interdisciplinary measures.
Analysing the brevity of the inscriptions, the rigid positional preferences maintained by the signs of the inscriptions, and the co-occurrence of restriction patterns demonstrated by certain classes of Indus signs, the study infers that such patterns can never be phonological co-occurrence restrictions.
Phonological co-occurrence restriction refers to two or more sound units that cannot be pronounced together.
A very compelling, nearly unassailable proof of the logographic nature of Indus inscriptions comes from the co-occurrence restriction patterns maintained within them.
Based on various archaeological evidences, the study claims that the inscribed seals and tablets were used in some administrative operation that controlled the commercial transactions prevalent in the trade-savvy settlements of the ancient Indus valley Civilisation.
These inscriptions can be compared to the messages found on stamps, coupons, tokens and currency coins of modern times, where we expect formulaic texts that encode certain type of information in some pre-defined ways, rather than freely composed narrative.
A common perception among some scholars is that the Indus script is logo-syllabic, where one symbol can be used as a word sign at one time and as a syllable-sign at another. This method, where a word-symbol also gets sometimes used only for its sound value, is called the rebus principle.
For example, one can combine the pictures of a honey bee and a leaf to signify the word “belief” (bee+leaf).
According to researchers, though many ancient scripts use rebus methods to generate new words, the inscriptions found on the Indus seals and tablets have not used rebus as the mechanism to convey meaning.
They claims that popular hypothesis that the seals were inscribed with Proto-Dravidian or Proto-Indo-European names of the seal-owners does not hold water.
About Indus Valley Civilisation
The excavations carried out in 1924, at the ruins of Mohenjodaro on the Indus river and Harappa in the Punjab, brought to light a highly developed urban civilization, archaeologically known as the Indus Valley or Harappan Culture.
These ancient cities had a systematic lay-out, wide roads, spacious houses made of bricks, and an underground drainage system.
People worshipped the Mother Goddess or Goddess of fertility.
Trade and cultural contacts existed between these cities and those of Mesopotamia of which the evidence is the occurrence of the seals, as well as similar carnelian beads, knobbed pottery, etc., at both places.
A large number of seals have been discovered in the excavations. They are made of steatite. terracotta and copper and are of various shapes and sizes. Almost invariably they bear on them the representation of a human or an animal figure and have on top an inscription in pictographic script which has not been deciphered so far.
The most famous seal is the Pashupati Seal from Mohenjo Daro. It is a seal with a figure seated cross-legged in the centre with animals around; an elephant and a tiger to the right of the figure and a rhino and a buffalo to its left.
Khanij Bidesh India Ltd. (KABIL)
Why in News
National Aluminium Company (Nalco), Hindustan Copper Ltd (HCL) and Mineral Exploration Corporation Ltd (MECL) have formally inked the joint venture (JV) agreement to form Khanij Bidesh India Ltd (KABIL) to ensure supply of critical Minerals to Indian domestic market.
The sustained source of mineral and metal commodities is imperative for the transportation and manufacturing segment.
To reduce greenhouse gas emissions and for opting a greener mode of transportation, it is important to ensure energy storage through batteries.
Further segments like Aviation, Defence and Space Research also require minerals with lower weight and high mechanical strength.
Among such twelve minerals identified as strategic minerals, which have meagre resource base, Lithium and Cobalt are significant.
While KABIL would ensure mineral security of the Nation, it would also help in realizing the overall objective of import substitution.
The KABIL would carry out identification, acquisition, exploration, development, mining and processing of strategic minerals overseas for commercial use and meeting country’s requirement of these minerals.
The sourcing of these minerals or metals is to done by creating trading opportunities, G2G collaborations with the producing countries or strategic acquisitions or investments in the exploration and mining assets of these minerals in the source countries.
The new company will help in building partnerships with other mineral rich countries like Australia and those in Africa and South America, where Indian expertise in exploration and mineral processing will be mutually beneficial bringing about new economic opportunities.
The equity participation between NALCO, HCL and MECL is in the ratio of 40:30:30.
India’s First National Time Release Study (TRS)
Why in News
The Department of Revenue, Ministry of Finance, as a part of its strategic commitment to improve global trade, is conducting India’s first national Time Release Study (TRS) between 1st – 7th August.
News in Detail
The exercise will be conducted at the same time across 15 ports including sea, air, land and dry ports which cumulatively account for 81% of total Bills of Entries for import and 67% of Shipping Bills for export filed within India.
The national TRS will establish baseline performance measurement and have standardized operations and procedures across all ports.
The exercise will be institutionalized on an annual basis, during the same period every year hereafter.
The TRS is an internationally recognized tool advocated by World Customs Organization to measure the efficiency and effectiveness of international trade flows.
This initiative for accountable governance, will measure rule based and procedural bottlenecks (including physical touch points) in the clearance of goods, from the time of arrival until the physical release of cargo.
The aim is to identify and address bottlenecks in the trade flow process and take the corresponding policy and operational measures required to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of border procedures, without compromising efficient trade control.
Expected beneficiaries of this initiative will be export oriented industries and MSMEs, who will enjoy greater standardization of Indian processes with comparable international standards.
This initiative will help India maintain the upward trajectory on Ease of Doing Business, particularly on the Trading Across Borders indicator which measures the efficiency of the cross border trade ecosystem. Last year India’s ranking on the indicator improved from 146 to 80.
Previously individual customs formations had been independently conducting TRS studies at the port level.
The national TRS has taken this a step further and evolved a uniform, multi-dimensional methodology which measures the regulatory and logistics aspects of the cargo clearance process and establishes the average release time for goods.
Based on the results of the TRS, government agencies associated with cross border trade will be able to diagnose existing and potential bottlenecks which act as barriers to the free flow of trade, and take remedial actions for reducing the cargo release time.
The initiative on ground is lead by the Central Board of Indirect Tax and Customs.
About World Customs Organization
The World Customs Organization (WCO), established in 1952 as the Customs Co-operation Council (CCC) is an independent intergovernmental body whose mission is to enhance the effectiveness and efficiency of Customs administrations.
WCO represents 183 Customs administrations across the globe that collectively process approximately 98% of world trade.
As the global centre of Customs expertise, the WCO is the only international organization with competence in Customs matters and is the voice of the international Customs community.
As a forum for dialogue and exchange of experiences between national Customs delegates, the WCO offers its Members a range of Conventions and other international instruments, as well as technical assistance and training services.
The WCO has divided its Membership into six Regions, each of which is represented by a regionally elected Vice-Chairperson to the WCO Council.
WCO has also been responsible for administering the World Trade Organization’s Agreements on Customs Valuation, which provide a system for placing values on imported goods, and the Rules of Origin, which are used to determine the origin of a given commodity.
UN Convention on International Settlement Agreements
Why in News
The Union Cabinet has approved the signing of the United Nations Convention on International Settlement Agreements (UNISA) resulting from mediation by India.
Signing of the Convention will boost the confidence of the investors and shall provide a positive signal to foreign investors about India’s commitment to adhere to international practice on Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR).
Initiatives to promote ADR Mechanisms
In order to encourage international commercial arbitration in India and to evolve a comprehensive ecosystem of arbitration, the Union Government is establishing the New Delhi International Arbitration Centre (NDIAC) as a statutory body.
The Commercial Courts Act, 2015, has been further amended and legislative exercise to further amend the Arbitration and Conciliation Act, 1996, is currently underway.
A new Chapter (IIIA) has been inserted in the Commercial Courts Act, 2015, for mandatory pre-institution mediation and settlement in certain category of cases.
Therefore, the provisions of the ‘Convention’ are in line with the domestic laws and the efforts are made to strengthen Alternative Dispute Resolution Mechanisms.
The United Nations General Assembly adopted the United Nations Convention on International Settlement Agreements Resulting from Mediation (“the Convention”) on 20 December 2018.
The General Assembly authorized that the Convention will open for signature at a signing ceremony to be held on 7thAugust 2019 in Singapore and will be known as the “Singapore Convention on Mediation” (the Convention).
The Convention ensures that a settlement reached by parties becomes binding and enforceable in accordance with a simplified and streamlined procedure.
The Convention provides a uniform and efficient international framework for mediation, akin to the framework that the New York Convention has successfully provided over the past 60 years for the recognition and enforcement of foreign arbitral awards.
The Convention defines two additional grounds upon which a court may, on its own motion, refuse to grant relief. Those grounds relate to the fact that a dispute would not be capable of settlement by mediation or would be contrary to public policy.
U.S. Federal Reserve
Why in News
The Federal Reserve has cut interest rates for the first time since 2008, citing concerns about the global economy and muted U.S. inflation.
News in Detail
The central bank reduced its benchmark rate which affects many loans for households and businesses by a quarter-point to a range of 2% to 2.25%.
It’s the first rate cut since December 2008 during the depths of the Great Recession, when the Fed slashed its rate to a record low near zero and kept it there until 2015.
The Fed also said that it would stop shrinking its enormous bond portfolio in August, two months earlier than planned.
This step is intended to avoid putting upward pressure on long-term borrowing rates.
The Fed had aggressively bought Treasury and mortgage bonds after the financial crisis to drive down long-term rates but had been gradually shrinking its balance sheet as the economy strengthened.
Impact on India
A rate cut cycle means a weaker dollar, which is good for the US but may not be so for the rest of the world.
It has been seen in the past that as the dollar weakens due to lower growth tendencies, the rupee has tended to strengthen which will pose a conundrum for India as exports will come under pressure.
The exports will be reduced due to lower global growth and a stronger rupee. This will not be good for the current account deficit (CAD).
About Federal Reserve System (Fed)
The Federal Reserve System is the central bank of the United States and arguably the most powerful financial institution in the world.
The Federal Reserve System was founded by the U.S. Congress in 1913 to provide the nation with a safe, flexible, and stable monetary and financial system.
It is based on a federal system that comprises a central governmental agency (the Board of Governors) in Washington, D.C., and 12 regional Federal Reserve Banks that are each responsible for a specific geographic area of the U.S.
The Federal Reserve is considered to be independent because its decisions do not have to be ratified by the president or any other government official.
Inter-State River Water disputes (Amendment) Bill, 2019
Why in News
Lok Sabha passed a bill designed to speed up the resolution of long-festering inter-state water disputes.
About the Bill
It amends the Inter-State River Water Disputes Act, 1956.
The Act provides for the adjudication of disputes relating to waters of inter-state rivers and river valleys.
Under the Act, a state government may request the central government to refer an inter-state river dispute to a Tribunal for adjudication. If the central government is of the opinion that the dispute cannot be settled through negotiations, it is required to set up a Water Disputes Tribunal for adjudication of the dispute, within a year of receiving such a complaint.
The Bill seeks to replace this mechanism.
Key Highlights of the Bill
1. Disputes Resolution Committee :
- Under the Bill, when a state puts in a request regarding any water dispute, the central government will set up a Disputes Resolution Committee (DRC), to resolve the dispute amicably.
- The DRC will comprise of a Chairperson, and experts with at least 15 years of experience in relevant sectors, to be nominated by the central government.
- The DRC will seek to resolve the dispute through negotiations, within one year (extendable by six months), and submit its report to the central government.
- If a dispute cannot be settled by the DRC, the central government will refer it to the Inter-State River Water Disputes Tribunal. Such referral must be made within three months from the receipt of the report from the DRC.
- The central government will set up an Inter-State River Water Disputes Tribunal, for the adjudication of water disputes which can have multiple benches.
- All existing Tribunals will be dissolved, and the water disputes pending adjudication before such existing Tribunals will be transferred to the new Tribunal.
3. Composition of the Tribunal:
- The Tribunal will consist of a Chairperson, Vice-Chairperson, three judicial members, and three expert members.
- They will be appointed by the central government on the recommendation of a Selection Committee.
- Each Tribunal Bench will consist of a Chairperson or Vice-Chairperson, a judicial member, and an expert member.
- The central government may also appoint two experts serving in the Central Water Engineering Service as assessors to advise the Bench in its proceedings. The assessor should not be from the state which is a party to the dispute.
4. Time frames:
- Under the Act, the Tribunal must give its decision within three years, which may be extended by two years.
- Under the Bill, the proposed Tribunal must give its decision on the dispute within two years, which may be extended by another year.
- Under the Act, if the matter is again referred to the Tribunal by a state for further consideration, the Tribunal must submit its report to the central government within a period of one year. This period can be extended by the central government.
- The Bill amends this to specify that such extension may be up to a maximum of six months.
5. Decision of the Tribunal:
- Under the Act, the decision of the Tribunal must be published by the central government in the official gazette. This decision has the same force as that of an order of the Supreme Court.
- The Bill removes the requirement of such publication. It adds that the decision of the Bench of the Tribunal will be final and binding on the parties involved in the dispute.
- The Act provided that the central government may make a scheme to give effect to the decision of the Tribunal.
- The Bill is making it mandatory for the central government to make such scheme.
6. Data bank:
- Under the Act, the central government maintains a data bank and information system at the national level for each river basin.
- The Bill provides that the central government will appoint or authorise an agency to maintain such data bank.
Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB)
IPS officer Rakesh Asthana took charge as the new chief of the Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB).
The Appointments Committee of Cabinet headed by Prime Minister, as per an order issued by the Union home ministry had approved for “entrustment of the additional charge of the post of Director General Narcotics Control Bureau” to Asthana for next six months or till a new incumbent is appointed.
The Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985 which came into effect from the 14th November, 1985 made an express provision for constituting a Central Authority for the purpose of exercising the powers and functions of the Central Government under the Act.
Thus, NCB was constituted by the Government of India on 17th March,1986.
The National Policy on Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances is based on the Directive Principles, contained in Article 47 of the Indian Constitution, which direct the State to endeavour to bring about prohibition of the consumption, except for medicinal purposes, of intoxicating drugs injurious to health.
The government’s policy on the subject which flows from this constitutional provision is also guided by the international conventions on the subject.
India is a signatory to the single Convention on Narcotic Drugs 1961, as amended by the 1972 Protocol, the Conventions on Psychotropic Substances, 1971 and the United Nations Convention against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances, 1988.
The broad legislative policy is contained in the three Central Acts, viz. Drugs and Cosmetics Act, 1940, The Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985, and The Prevention of Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1988.