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October 13, 2017

U.S., Israel quit UNESCO

  • The U.S. on Thursday announced its withdrawal from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), accusing it of “continuing anti-Israel bias.”
  • UNESCO is the first UN agency to have admitted Palestine as a full member in 2011. As required by law, the U.S. has stopped funding UNESCO since then. The U.S. withdrawal will take effect on December 31, 2018. Until then, it will remain a full member.
  • Israel has also decided to pull out of UNESCO, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said. “The Prime Minister has instructed the Foreign Ministry to prepare Israel’s withdrawal from the organisation alongside the U.S.,” his office said in a statement.
  • Secretary of State Rex Tillerson notified UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova of the decision. State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert said the U.S. would seek a permanent observer mission to UNESCO.

Gram sabha nod must for liquor shops, says HC

  • In a far-reaching judgment, which will strengthen gram sabha in tribal areas of both Telugu States, a bench of Hyderabad High Court on Thursday ruled that retail wine shops and bars in scheduled area villages be permitted only after gram sabha gave its consent. The concept of ‘deemed ‘consent coined by excise officers was frowned upon by the bench.
  • He contended that the rules issued by the excise department provide for prior intimation to each gram sabha and then, based upon the resolution, licence should be issued.

SC clears the air on ‘senior lawyer’ designation

  • After the Supreme Court drew back the curtains to let the sunshine in on the secretive Collegium system of judicial appointments, the court repeated the act of transparency on Thursday by making the procedure for conferment of ‘senior advocate’ designation to lawyers uniform and objective to ensure that only the deserving will get the coveted status.
  • So far, the judges of the Supreme Court and the high courts had sole discretion over whom to grant the senior gown. The reasons for conferring this honour have often remained opaque.
  • The status of senior advocate commands enormous respect from courts and, as far as the litigant is concerned, it is synonymous with considerable fee charged.
  • Indira Jaising, herself a senior advocate designated by the Bombay High Court in 1986, had challenged the selection system as arbitrary and opaque.

Strict process

  • “The court held that the credentials of everyone who seeks to be designated as a senior advocate or whom the Full Court suo motu decides to confer the honour must be subject to the “utmost strict process of scrutiny leaving no scope for any doubt.”
  • For the first time, the court recorded that the pro bono work done by lawyers would be a major consideration for grant of the senior status. The Bench directed the setting up of a permanent committee headed by the Chief Justice of India and consisting of two senior-most Judges of the SC or the high courts. The panel will have the Attorney General of India or the Advocate General of the State in case of a high court. The fifth member of the panel would be nominated from the Bar.
  • The panel would examine each candidate based on the data provided by the secretariat and interview them. It would make its overall assessment on the basis of a point-based format. The names shortlisted by the panel would be placed before the Full Court, which will take the final decision.

‘EU, India are natural partners based on values’

The 14th EU-India summit completed in New Delhi last week has given the two sides a much clearer political strategic direction, says the EU Ambassador to India Tomasz Kozlowski, also dismissing comments by the German Ambassador that it was a failure that EU and India leaders didn’t agree on the resumption of the Free Trade Agreement talks. Excerpts :

  • The summit last week saw a declaration that India and the EU are natural partners. How do you see this partnership growing?
    • During the EU-India summit [we] agreed to deepen both strategic relations and to go ahead with these common goals with a long-term view on global and regional challenges, and a rule-based international order. We have common responsibilities to secure peace and stability because of the current uncertainties in the global arena. The EU and India are very stable and predictable partners.
  • In terms of specifics, do they also see common geopolitical threats, as India in its region sees a country like China as a bigger challenge, while for the EU it is Russia?
    • The current world is interconnected, and the geographical distance between India and Europe is no longer key. In the past EU-India relations have been blocked by specific bilateral issues like the FTA or the Italian Marines issue, but this time, foreign policy and security issues played an important role in the Summit, with far-reaching statements on naval exercises, space cooperation, etc. which two years ago would have seemed impossible.
  • The statement on Pakistan-based terror groups is also new. How will EU and India take this cooperation forward from here?
    • This time, we have mentioned not only entities but specific names (Lakhvi and Dawood Ibrahim), and we have agreed to consult each other about the listing of terrorists and designating organisations. We are working on establishing direct links between Europol and Indian agencies. It means our security cooperation is becoming more practical, and more operational.
  • On the Chinese Belt and Road initiative, India had been the only country raising concerns this year. Does EU too have concerns about the BRI now, along with those on the South China Sea?
    • We are in favour of connecting Asia to Europe, but at the same time we want to be clear about the principles it should be based on. It is also important to have accessibility of the high seas on the basis of international law. My understanding is there is an absolute commonality of views between India and the European Union on this.
  • Will the European Union support India’s case for a permanent seat at the UN Security Council as well?
    • We are in favour of India playing a more important role in the international arena. We are in favour of the UNSC becoming more efficient and effective.
  • You speak of the steps taken at the India-EU summit. Yet days after the summit, German Ambassador Martin Ney said the summit had failed to reach an agreement on resuming free trade talks, and India and the EU have failed to realise their potential. Do you share that disappointment?
    • This week the Indian and EU trade ministers have met and in mid-November we will have the next meeting of chief negotiators who have been tasked by the leaders to move the file forward.So I refuse to enter into any views that we failed to agree on this issue at the summit.

All services are combatants: Army

  • In the face of several dozen mid-rung officers moving the Supreme Court over discrimination in promotions and operational duties, the ongoing Army Commanders Conference on Thursday clarified that all arms and services are combatants and are on a par.
  • “It was never in dispute that all arms and services are combatants. Hence, at no stage has the Army referred to Services units being non-combatant Units…. In addition, Chief of Army Staff on assuming the appointment had mentioned that he would consider all arms and services at par and they would get their dues that they deserve,” Army said in a statement on Thursday.
  • Recently several officers from the ASC had approached the Supreme Court alleging that they were deployed in operations in forward areas, but were denied benefits as they were termed non-combatants. Army Headquarters, in its submission before the highest court last year, had called the service cadre ‘non-operational’.
  • The officers in their petition stated: “The Army or the government has no power to declare any part of regular army ‘non-operational,’ since the officers of the regular army are operational by statute.”
  • In the statement, the Army quoting its Affidavit in SC stated that to boost strength, a number of Officers, JCOs and Other Ranks from Combat Support Arms and logistic units are posted on tenure basis in infantry (Counter Insurgency/ Counter Terrorist units). The statement said that some aberrations, if these are being perceived by any arm or service, are being addressed during the Commanders conference.

SC allows mop-up counselling

  • The Supreme Court has revised its earlier order refusing to extend the deadline for filling vacant seats in medical super-speciality courses.
  • In a separate order on Wednesday, a Bench of Justices A.K. Goel and U.U. Lalit directed the Director General of Health Services (DGHS) to hold mop-up counselling to fill 553 vacant medical super-speciality seats within next 10 days.
  • The court said the DGHS should decide the date of counselling and the scheduled time, giving adequate time for the candidates to attend. The information should be duly publicised for five days continuously in national newspapers and also put up on the DGHS and Medical Council of India websites at the earliest. The joining period post the counselling should not exceed four days.
  • The extension of the deadline is only applicable for the present academic year, the court clarified.

World Bank cautions against protectionism

  • After years of disappointing growth, the global economy has begun to accelerate, World Bank President Jim Yong Kim said on Thursday, cautioning that a rise in protectionism and policy uncertainty could derail this fragile recovery.

Weak investment

  • Addressing a press conference at the start of annual meetings of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank here, Mr. Kim said that though trade is picking up, investment remains weak.
  • “Overall, we are seeing growth rise in most developing and advanced economies — which is why countries need to make critical investments now. This is the time to implement the reforms that are going to insulate against potential downturns in the future,” the World Bank chief told reporters.
  • He expressed concern that risks such as rise in protectionism, policy uncertainty or possible financial market turbulence could derail this fragile recovery.

Building resilience

  • He said countries need to build resilience against the overlapping challenges the world faces today, including the effects of climate change, natural disasters, conflict, forced displacement, famine and disease.