Feb. 28, 2019

Mains Article
28 Feb 2019


Indian Air Force fighter pilot Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman was freed by Pakistan, two days after his MiG-21 fighter jet came down in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK). 


Abhinandan Varthaman: 

  • Abhinandan Varthaman is a fighter pilot and officer in the Indian Air Force who pilots a MiG-21 Bison fighter aircraft. 

  • On 27 February 2019, he was flying a MiG-21 when he crossed into Pakistan territory and was shot down by the Pakistani Air Force after which he ejected, deployed his parachute, descended safely to the ground, captured and held for three days in Pakistan during the 2019 India-Pakistan standoff. 

  • On 28 February 2019, Pakistan announced to release Abhinandan on 1 March 2019 via Wagah border as a peace gesture (He crossed the border on 1 March 2019 on foot at the border crossing at Wagah). 

  • Pakistani PM Imran Khan’s announcement to release the IAF pilot came as a surprise. However, Indian forces dismissed the release being a gesture of peace and suggested that it was mandated under the Geneva Conventions. 

Geneva Conventions: 

  • Meaning: The 1949 Geneva Conventions are a set of international treaties that ensure that warring parties conduct themselves in a humane way with non-combatants such as civilians and medical personnel, as well as with combatants no longer actively engaged in fighting, such as prisoners of war, and wounded or sick soldiers. 

  • List: There are four conventions, with three protocols added on since 1949. 

  • Background: The Geneva Convention were adopted in 1949 in the backdrop of World War II. However, the four Geneva Conventions, with three protocols, continue to apply today to situations of armed conflicts. 

  • Signatories: All countries are signatories to the Geneva Conventions. 

List of conventions: 

  • The first convention requires that all wounded and infirm soldiers as well as medical personnel and chaplains in the field are treated humanely without discrimination on the basis of race, colour, gender, religion or faith, and the like. It prohibits acts such as torture, mutilation, outrages upon personal dignity, and execution without judgment. It also grants them the right to proper medical treatment and care. 

  • The second convention extends the protections described above to shipwrecked soldiers and other naval forces, including special protections afforded to hospital ships. 

  • The third convention is related to the treatment of Prisoners of War (PoWs). It should be noted that the Wing commander who was at the helm of a MiG – 21 Bison has not been termed as a PoW either by India or Pakistan. 

  • The last Convention focuses on the protection of civilians in times of war. 

Provisions for PoWs: 

  • The treatment of prisoners of war is dealt with by the Third Convention or treaty. 

  • Prisoners must be treated “humanely”. And the responsibility for this lies with the detaining power, not just the individuals who captured the PoW. 

  • Any act by the Detaining Power causing death or seriously endangering the health of a prisoner of war in its custody is prohibited, and will be regarded as a serious breach of the present Convention. 

  • In particular, no prisoner of war may be subjected to physical mutilation or to medical or scientific experiments of any kind which are not justified by the medical, dental or hospital treatment of the prisoner concerned and carried out in his interest. 

  • Likewise, prisoners of war must at all times be protected, particularly against acts of violence or intimidation and against insults and public curiosity. In this sense, the wide publicity given to the video recording of a blindfolded Wing Commander Abhinandan identifying himself to his captives could be held as a violation of the Geneva Conventions. 

  • In captivity, a PoW must not be forced to provide information of any kind under “physical or mental torture, nor any other form of coercion”. Refusal to answer questions should not invite punishment. 

  • A PoW must be protected from exposure to fighting. Use of PoWs as hostages or human shields is prohibited. 

  • Access to health facilities, prayer, recreation and exercise are also written into the Convention. A PoW is also entitled to receive books or care packages from the outside world. 

  • The detaining power has to facilitate correspondence between the PoW and his family, and must ensure that this is done without delays. 

  • Parties to the conflict “are bound to send back” or repatriate PoWs, regardless of rank, who are seriously wounded or sick, after having cared for them until they are fit to travel”. 


International Relations

Feb. 27, 2019

Mains Article
27 Feb 2019



  • The 2019 Balakot airstrike occurred on 26 February 2019, when 12 jets of the Indian Air Force crossed the Line of Control in Kashmir to perform an airstrike on what India says was a terrorist training camp inside Pakistan. 

  • The airstrikes were a retaliation for an attack on its paramilitary forces, which took place two weeks prior. 

  • The Indian government stated that it was a "preemptive non military air strike based on credible intelligence" that another attack on India was planned by JeM. 

  • According to India, the jets struck a Jaish-e-Mohammed-operated militant camp at Balakot killing a "very large" number of militants and returned back into Indian airspace unharmed without being engaged by Pakistani aircraft. 

 Different from the past precedent: 

  • Airstrikes by the Indian Air Force establishes a new threshold between the two nuclear neighbours for an Indian response to a terror attack. So far, India has either chosen to - 
    • put diplomatic pressure on Pakistan (after the 26/11 Mumbai terror attack), 

    • mobilise its armed forces (after the 2001 Parliament attack) or 

    • conduct limited ground-based operations (after the 2016 Uri attack). 

  • But India has never used the Air Force, that too inside Pakistan. The use of airpower has been taboo between the two countries, especially after both became declared nuclear powers in 1998, because of the dangers of escalation. 

  • Restrictions around the use of airpower are best illustrated by the Kargil War, when the Vajpayee government allowed the IAF to be used, but did not allow it to cross the LoC. 

Deep inside Pakistan: 

  • Another highlight is the extent of incursion. This is first venture this deep inside Pakistan. 

  • Indian operations after the 1971 War have always been limited to the Line of Control and Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, never venturing into mainland Pakistan. As India considers PoK to be Indian territory illegally occupied by Pakistan, and LoC is a militarily active border manned by the two armies, military action there has been considered somewhat acceptable. 

Future scenario: 

  • This airstrike also sets a precedent for future action by India: use of airpower in mainland Pakistan against terror camps. If it is Balakot today, it could be Bahawalpur or Muridke tomorrow. 

  • This response is going to create a public clamour in India after every terror incident to punish Pakistan, another reason that makes it a real watershed. 

Intelligence-led operation: 

  • The Foreign Secretary has called it an “intelligence-led operation” and a “non-military preemptive action”. 

  • The Foreign Secretary was taking the care of asserting that the targets had been carefully selected, based on hard intelligence inputs about the presence of terrorists in the camp. 

  • By calling it an intelligence-led operation, the government was trying to send a message to the global audience that the airstrikes were not done at some arbitrarily chosen place but were part of a well-considered action.  

  • Given that use of airpower inside Pakistani mainland territory is bound to be considered an act of war, India by calling it non-military wanted to reassure everyone that it is not such an act. 

  • That India chose not to target the Pakistan military or civilians but a terror camp was an important part of the Indian argument for preventing any escalation by the Pakistani side. 

  • The words “preemptive action” were to suggest that the airstrike was not an act of revenge or retribution but an act of self-defence to prevent a likely terror attack in the future. 

  • All these phrases point to an effort to couch the action in terms that have a de-escalatory tone, giving Pakistan the space it may need to de-escalate. 

Options for Pakistan: 

  • Any step that Pakistan takes from here on as an “appropriate reply” would be escalatory in nature, which could beget a further response from India. 

  • While Pakistan will try and make a diplomatic case against India, it is unlikely to carry any weight because of its track record in dealing with terrorist groups. 

  • Any military action outside the LoC will be an act of war, and hitting any non-military target is fraught and could make the situation even more difficult for Pakistan. 

  • Having wrested the initiative, India would have placed its armed forces on the highest alert, which takes away any element of surprise that Pakistan would want in conventional warfare. It may intensify its shelling along the border. 

The key challenges for India: 

  • The Indian armed forces will now have to be prepared for a full-spectrum of conflict. 

  • Politically, India is heading into elections and the BJP has done well to tone down the rhetoric. 

  • Diplomatically, it is the challenge of dealing with the US, China and Russia, which are interested in a settlement with Pakistan and would advise both the countries to exercise restraint. 

  • While that restraint is now being asked of Pakistan, in case of a Pakistani military misadventure against India, that restraint would also be sought of India. 

Way ahead for India: 

  • The purpose of a military action after a terror strike is either compellence or deterrence. 

  • While compellence refers to India’s demonstration of military and political will to compel Pakistan to change its ways of patronising terror, deterrence refers to a fear of punishment to stop Pakistan from supporting another terror attack in India. 

  • The air strike in Balakot is a strong signal that India can hold the threat of action as a coercive tool and use the diplomatic offensive to demand compliance from Pakistan. 



Defence & Security

Feb. 26, 2019

Mains Article
26 Feb 2019


To boost the residential segment of the real estate sector, the GST Council in its 33rd meeting slashed tax rates for affordable and non-affordable housing. 

Recommendations made: 

  • GST rate: GST shall be levied at effective GST rate of 5% without Input Tax Credit (ITC) on residential properties outside affordable segment; GST shall be levied at effective GST of 1% without ITC on affordable housing properties. 

  • Effective date: The new rate shall become applicable from 1st of April, 2019. 

  • Definition of affordable housing shall be: 
    • A residential house/flat of carpet area of upto 90 sqm in non-metropolitan cities/towns and 60 sqm in metropolitan cities having value upto Rs. 45 lacs (both for metropolitan and non-metropolitan cities). 

    • Metropolitan Cities are Bengaluru, Chennai, Delhi NCR (limited to Delhi, Noida, Greater Noida, Ghaziabad, Gurgaon, Faridabad), Hyderabad, Kolkata and Mumbai (whole of MMR). 

  • GST exemption on TDR/ JDA, long term lease (premium), FSI: Intermediate tax on development right, such as TDR, JDA, lease (premium), FSI shall be exempted only for such residential property on which GST is payable. 

Reasons behind this decision: 

  • Real estate sector is one of the largest contributors to the national GDP and provides employment opportunity to large numbers of people. 

  • “Housing for All by 2022” envisions that every citizen would have a house and the urban areas would be free of slums. There are reports of slowdown in the sector and low off-take of under-construction houses which needs to be addressed. 

  • To boost the residential segment of the real estate sector, the above-mentioned recommendations were made by the GST Council in its 33rd meeting. 

  • The buyer of house gets a fair price and affordable housing gets very attractive with GST @ 1%. Tax structure and tax compliance becomes simpler for builders. 

  • The government cited reports of slowdown in the sector and low offtake of under-construction houses as the reasons. The real estate sector needed to be incentivised given the inventory pileup and the slowdown in launch of new projects. 

  • Lower offtake restricting money flow in the sector was also among the concerns that led to the lowering of the GST rates. About 40% of the offtake should happen in the first year of completion of a project, a proportion that has now slipped to about 25 per cent. 

  • Also, it was felt that builders were not passing on the benefits of input tax credit to home-buyers as lower prices. 

Opposition by states: 

  • Some states cited possible revenue loss, valuation of land, breaking of value chain in absence of ITC and sourcing norms for real estate developers as contentious issues. 

  • Punjab has demanded that the formula of taking one-third of the amount of the property as abatement for the value of land should instead be linked to circle rates. It is because in cities with lower land value, this deprives states of revenue otherwise due to them. 

  • The Centre’s proposal to introduce an 80% sourcing norm from registered dealers after removal of ITC was opposed by West Bengal as this could lead to use of more cash and result in flow of black money into the sector. 

Way ahead: 

  • A committee of officers has been tasked with working out the procedural details regarding transition rules, and norms for reversal of ITC in cases where the builders have taken credit for all units and then sold some of those units with completion certificate. 

  • The officers’ committee will also examine cases where there is commercial space or shops in ground floors, and whether it should be allowed and if allowed what percentage should be allowed. 

Goods & Services Tax Council? 

  • Status: Constitutional body. As per Article 279A (1) of the Constitution, the GST Council has to be constituted by the President within 60 days of the commencement of Article 279A. 

  • Mandate: Making recommendations to the Union and State Government on issues related to Goods and Service Tax. 

  • Composition: it is chaired by the Union Finance Minister and other members are: 
    • the Union State Minister of Revenue or Finance and 

    • Ministers in-charge of Finance or Taxation of all the States. 




Feb. 25, 2019

Mains Article
25 Feb 2019



  • The Indus system comprises of main Indus River, Jhelum, Chenab, Ravi, Beas and Sutlej. The basin is mainly shared by India and Pakistan with a small share for China and Afghanistan. 

  • Under the Indus Waters Treaty, brokered by the World Bank, was signed between India and Pakistan in 1960, all the waters of three rivers, namely Ravi, Sutlej and Beas (Eastern Rivers) averaging around 33 million-acre feet (MAF) were allocated to India for exclusive use. 

  • The waters of Indus, Jhelum, and Chenab (Western rivers) averaging to around 135 MAF were allocated to Pakistan except for specified domestic, non-consumptive and agricultural use permitted to India. India has also been given the right to generate hydroelectricity through run of the river (RoR) projects on the Western Rivers which. 

Recent development: 

  • In the aftermath of terror attacks from Pakistan, Government of India has decided to stop share of water which used to flow to Pakistan by diverting water from Eastern rivers and supply it to people in Jammu and Kashmir and Punjab. 

  • About 2 MAF of water annually from Ravi is reported to be still flowing unutilized to Pakistan below Madhopur. To stop the flow of these waters, following steps have been taken: 
    • Resumption of Construction of Shahpurkandi project: This project will help in utilizing the waters coming out from powerhouse of Thein dam to irrigate 37000 hectares of land in J&K and Punjab and generate 206 MW of power. 

    • Construction of Ujh multipurpose project: This project will create a storage of about 781 million cu m of water on river Ujh, a tributary of Ravi for irrigation and power generation in districts of J&K. 

    • The 2nd Ravi Beas link below Ujh: This project is being planned to tap excess water flowing to Pakistan through by constructing a barrage across river Ravi for diverting water through a tunnel link to Beas basin. 

Uri Attack: 

  • The policy direction had, in fact, changed more than two years earlier — in the wake of another terrorist attack, on an Army camp in Uri in September 2016. 

  • Since the terrorist attack in Uri in 2016, India has worked to ensure it utilises its full claim under the Indus Waters Treaty. Several stalled projects have been revived, and many have been put on the fast track. 

  • After the Uri attack, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had said that “blood and water” could not flow together, and India had temporarily suspended regular meetings of the Indus Commissioners of the two countries. 

  • A high-level task force was set up under the stewardship of the Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister to ensure that India makes full use of the waters it is entitled to under the Treaty. 

  • Officials say more than 30 projects are under various stages of implementation on the Western rivers, having got the final approvals. Many of them have been accorded the status of national projects. Another eight projects are said to be in the planning stage. 

Reason for shift in Policy: 

  • Post Uri, India’s decision to change the status quo and use more waters of the Indus rivers was made with the calculation that it would hurt the interests of Pakistan, which has become used to the excess water and built its infrastructure around it. 

  • More than 95% of Pakistan’s irrigation infrastructure is in the Indus basin — about 15 million hectares of land. It has now become the world’s largest contiguous irrigation system, comprising over 60,000 km of canals. 

  • Three of Pakistan’s biggest dams, including Mangla, which is one of the largest in the world, is built on the Jhelum river. These dams produce a substantial proportion of Pakistan’s electricity. 

Pakistan’s claims & Dispute resolution: 

  • Even before India’s shift in policy, Pakistan had often complained that it was being denied its due share of waters, and that India had violated the provisions of the Indus Waters Treaty in the manner it had designed and implemented many of its projects on the Indus rivers. 

  • The result has been an increasing number of objections being raised by Pakistan on the projects that are coming up in India. 

  • The two countries have permanent Indus Water Commissions that meet regularly not just to share information and data, but also to resolve disputes. Until a few years ago, most of these disputes would be resolved through this bilateral mechanism. 

  • The dispute over the Baglihar dam was the first one that Pakistan referred to the World Bank, which had brokered the Indus Waters Treaty. Baglihar, which was adjudicated upon by a neutral expert, did not go Pakistan’s way. 

  • In the case of the Kishanganga project, where the matter was referred to a Court of Arbitration, a higher level of conflict resolution under the Treaty, Pakistan managed to get a partially favourable decision. Some disputes over the Kishanganga have remained unresolved and are currently being addressed. 


International Relations

Feb. 22, 2019

Mains Article
22 Feb 2019


The Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia Mohammed bin Salman paid his first State visit to India from 19-20 February 2019. 

1) Strategic Partnership: 

  • During the visit of King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz al-Saud to India in 2006, the two sides signed the landmark Delhi Declaration. This laid the framework for upgrading ties to the level of “strategic partnership” in 2010, when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh visited Saudi Arabia. 

  • During Modi’s 2016 visit, an MoU on cooperation in the exchange of intelligence related to money laundering and terrorism financing was signed. 

  • India is the only country apart from China that can put pressure on Pakistan. 

  • The tour – part of his Pakistan-India-China trip – has been seen as an effort by MBS to repair his image that has been dented badly by the gruesome October 2018 murder of the dissident Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the kingdom’s consulate in Ankara. 

  • Steps taken during the recent visit: 
    • The two sides agreed to cement the existing ‘Strategic Partnership’ with ‘high-level monitoring mechanism by the creation of the Strategic Partnership Council at the Ministerial level. 

    • The two sides agreed to hold the inaugural joint naval exercises at the earliest. 

    • The two sides condemned in the strongest terms, the recent terrorist attack on Indian security forces on 14th February in Pulwama in Jammu and Kashmir. 

    • They also noted the need for early adoption of the UN Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism. 

2) Trade and Investment: 

  • Bilateral trade was US $27.48 billion during the last financial year 2017-18, making Saudi Arabia India’s 4th largest trading partner, recording about 10% growth compared to 2016-17. 

  • Other areas of interest for joint collaboration are fertilisers, food security, infrastructure, civil aviation, information and communications technology, healthcare and pharmaceuticals, electronic and manufacturing facilities etc. 

  • Saudi Arabia itself is undertaking large development projects including Smart City, Red Sea Tourism Project, and Entertainment City, in which Indian companies will be looking to participate. 

  • Steps taken during the recent visit: 
    • Saudi Arabia will invest 100 billion dollars in India in range of areas including energy, refining, petrochemicals, infrastructure, agriculture and manufacturing. 

    • A MoU on investing in the National Investment and Infrastructure Fund (NIIF) of India was signed. 

3) Energy: 

  • Saudi Arabia is the key pillar of India’s energy security, being a source of 17% or more of crude oil and 32% of LPG requirements of India. 

  • Saudi ARAMCO, in partnership with ADNOC of UAE, have agreed to partner in Ratnagiri Refinery and Petro-Chemical project Ltd., a Joint Venture of US$ 44 billion (although now Maharashtra Government has decided to shift the site). 

  • Steps taken during the recent visit: 
    • The two sides expressed satisfaction at the first Joint Venture West Coast Refinery and Petrochemical Project estimated to cost US $ 44 billion. 

    • Saudi Arabia signed the Framework Agreement on the International Solar Alliance (ISA). 

4) Soft Power: 

  • Relations between the two countries are rooted in strong historical and civilizational links. 

  • India has the world’s third largest Muslim population (after Indonesia and Pakistan), and there is inevitably a religious-cultural aspect to the ties with the custodian of Islam’s holiest sites. 

  • The 2.7 million strong Indian community is the largest expatriate group in Saudi Arabia. They send remittances of over US $11 billion annually. 

  • The Kingdom also facilitates Hajj pilgrimage to over 1,75,000 Indians every year. 

  • Steps taken during the recent visit: 
    • Mohammed bin Salman ordered the release of 850 Indian prisoners lodged in his country's jails on Prime Minister Narendra Modi's request. 

    • Saudi Arabia has also agreed to resolve issues relating to Indian workers who are currently stranded in the kingdom due to the closure of a foreign company. 

    • Crown Prince also announced the increase in quota for Indian Haj pilgrims to 200,000. 

    • India has decided to extend the e-Visa facility to Saudi nationals. 

International Relations
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