Topic 1 : USS Dwight D Eisenhower
Why in news: US Defence Secretary announced that the nuclear-powered USS Dwight D. Eisenhower Carrier Strike Group (CSG) has been directed to move to the Eastern Mediterranean
Why has the US deployed its carriers close to the Israel-Hamas conflict?
- The presence of carriers can reiterate American support for its longtime ally Israel to others in the region.
- It would act as a deterrent for any other actor.
About the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower:
- It is a Nimitz class carrier, which denotes an older class of US Navy carriers named after a World War 2 Commander in Chief.
- The Nimitz and the newer Gerald R. Ford-class aircraft carriers are the largest warships in the world, each designed for an approximately 50-year service life with just a single mid-life refuelling.
- Mission capabilities:
- maritime security operations,
- expeditionary power projection,
- forward naval presence,
- crisis response,
- sea control,
- information operations,
- security cooperation and
- It is an aircraft carrier – which typically has various aircraft and onboard defence systems onboard..
- Role and cababilities:
- They can disperse and serve as primary command and control operations centers, to cover a wide swath of area.
- They can conduct information warfare.
- They can launch and recover E2-Hawkeye surveillance planes that provide early warnings on missile launches, conduct surveillance and manage the airspace.
- It carry F-18 fighter jets that could fly intercepts or strike targets.
- They also have significant capabilities for humanitarian work, including an onboard hospital with medics, surgeons and doctors, and they sail with helicopters that can be used to airlift critical supplies in or victims out, the report added.Topic 2 : Quote: Women… are fuelled by a will to survive
Why in news: The 2023 Nobel Peace Prize winner Narges Mohammadi gave a quote — “Women will not give up. We are fuelled by a will to survive, whether we are inside prison or outside”.
About the quote:
- It refers to both her life and work and the position of women in Iranian society.
- The quote is an effective call for continuing women’s struggle against patriarchy.
- It illustrates the strength and determination of women to battle against all odds, in all kinds of circumstances, without giving up.
- And while the sentiment has universal applicability, in feminist movements in other countries too, the quote is also reflective of Mohammadi’s activism that focuses on Iranian women’s rights.
Who is Narges Mohammadi?
- Born in 1972, Mohammadi comes from a politically active family.
- Her relatives were imprisoned following the Iranian Revolution, which saw the country transition to a theocracy.
- In the 1990s, Mohammadi made her voice heard through regular articles in newspapers, even as she established her career as an engineer.
- In 2003, she became associated with the Defenders of Human Rights Center in Tehran, an organisation founded by Shirin Ebadi – the first Iranian woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize back in 2003.
- Her book ‘White Torture’ was published while she was briefly at home after a medical emergency.
- It focused on solitary confinement and included interviews with other Iranian women who had undergone punishment.
Iran and the struggle for women’s rights
- The Mahsa Amini case:
- The most recent example of Iranian women’s rights was the months-long agitation that followed Mahsa Amini’s death in 2022.
- Women did not just take to the streets to vent their frustration but it was seen as a protest against years of regulations.
- There were reports of multiple women burning their headscarves in public spaces.
- For context, Iran’s Islamic Republic requires women to cover up in public, a rule that includes wearing a hijab or headscarf that is supposed to completely hide the hair.
- Many Iranian women, especially in urban areas, have avoided following the rule.
- This holds even more true for the younger generation, which has taken to wearing loose scarves and outfits that push the boundaries of conservative dress.
- Despite the brutal suppression of the demonstrations by the regime, the movement managed to make its way to global discourse.
- Shirin Ebadi has also, in the past, argued that the feminist movement in Iran is the strongest in West Asia because Iranian women are highly educated.
- Women make up over 60 percent of university students and play a role in all important aspects of society.
- Yet Iran has discriminated against women and continues to discount their lives and rights.
- Women protests after Iranin Revolution:
- Iranian women also protested after the Iranian Revolution in 1979.
- Tens of thousands of women marched against the order of wearing hijab mandatorily.
- It was really the first counter-revolutionary movement.
- It wasn’t just about the hijab it was about women’s rights generally.
- There’s been a long history of women protesting and defying authority.Topic 3 : Indian Ocean Rim Association and India
Why in news: ‘Reinforcing Indian Ocean Identity’ was the banner theme at the Indian Ocean Rim Association’s (IORA) Council of Ministers (COM) held in Colombo recently.
- The Indian Ocean Rim Association includes 23 countries from Africa, West Asia, South Asia, South East Asia, Australia and littoral states situated in and around the Indian Ocean.
- Apex body: The Council of Foreign Ministers.
- It meet once a year, moves by rotation through members every two years.
- Sri Lanka took charge as Chair this year from Bangladesh, and India is Vice-Chair, meaning that the troika of IORA is within the South Asian region.
- The member countries are:
- Australia, Bangladesh, the Comoros, France, India, Indonesia, Iran, Kenya, Madagascar, Malaysia, the Maldives, Mauritius, Mozambique, Oman, Seychelles, Singapore, Somalia, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Tanzania, Thailand, the UAE and Yemen.
- 11 dialogue partners:
- China, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Germany, Italy, Japan, South Korea, Russia, Türkiye, the U.K. and the U.S.
- While the IORA was formed in 1997 (then called the Indian Ocean Region-Association for Regional Cooperation) in Mauritius, its genesis came from a speech Nelson Mandela gave in Delhi in 1995.
Significance of the Indian Ocean Region:
- A third of the world’s population (2.6 billion people) live in the region.
- 80% of global oil trade, 50% of the world’s containerised cargo and 33% of its bulk cargo passes through it.
- The region produces a combined total of $1 trillion in goods and services and intra-IORA trade is billed at around $800 billion.
- Challenges of other organisations and china:
- India’s other regional organisations, like SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) and BIMSTEC (Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation), face their own challenges.
- While the QUAD (Quadrilateral Security Dialogue), has made progress, it remains U.S.-led, along with military allies Australia and Japan.
- China is actively trying to rope in India’s neighbours with groupings like the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), China-Indian Ocean Region Forum on Development Cooperation, China-South Asian Countries Poverty Alleviation and Cooperative Development Centre, which exclude India.
- IORA remains a safe space for India and other countries of the region that wish to keep out the constant challenge of big-power rivalries.
- IORA membership is based on consensus, and Pakistan has not been admitted to the grouping since it first applied in 2001, on the basis that it has not extended MFN (most favoured nation) status to India.
- It makes the IORA a less contentious space for India as well, compared to groupings like the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO).
Focus of IORA:
- The IORA’s seven priority areas are:
- maritime safety and security;
- trade and investment facilitation;
- fisheries management;
- disaster risk management;
- academic, science and technology;
- tourism and cultural exchanges; and
- gender empowerment.
- The IORA also runs a special fund in addition, disbursing $80,000-$150,000 for project grants to members, and has a particular focus on climate change.Topic 4 : Abortion laws
Why in news: The case of a married woman who is 26 weeks pregnant has approached the Supreme Court seeking to terminate her pregnancy citing inability to take care of the child due to post-partum depression and other health issues, has once again put spotlight on abortion laws in India.
- The Supreme Court agreed to her plea, but two days later, a two-judge Bench delivered a split verdict.
- It was based on a report brandished by the government which was from the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) which said that the foetus was viable and had a heartbeat.
- Aborting it at this stage would mean either putting a stop to the heartbeat or delivering the baby prematurely which might lead to severe complications both mental and physical for the child.
- The case was then referred to a larger Bench headed by the Chief Justice of India, which has observed that the highest court of the land cannot overlook the rights of an unborn child thus igniting a pro-life versus pro-choice debate.
The MTP Act:
- According to the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Amendment Act 2021, opinion of only one registered medical practitioner will be required for the abortion of a foetus up to 20 weeks of gestation.
- Opinion of two registered medical practitioner is required for the termination of pregnancy from 20 to 24 weeks of gestation.
- The opinion of a state-level medical board is required for abortions over 24 weeks, in case of suspected foetal abnormalities.
How is the 2021 law different from the earlier 1971 MTP Act?
- The 2021 Act increased the upper gestation limit from 20 to 24 weeks for special categories of women, including survivors of rape, victims of incest and other vulnerable women like differently abled and minors.
- A confidentiality clause was added which said that the name and other particulars of a woman whose pregnancy has been terminated cannot be revealed except to a person authorised by law.
- It also extended MTP services, under the clause of failure of contraceptive, to unmarried women to provide access to safe abortion based on a woman’s choice, irrespective of marital status.
Global trend on abortion laws
- Globally, there has been a trend towards liberalisation of abortion laws and increased access to abortion services.
- Since the early 1990s, nearly 60 countries across the world have eased abortion laws to expand the grounds under which abortion is legal.
- Only four countries, namely the U.S., El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Poland have removed legal grounds for abortion during this time period.
- The U.S. Supreme Court eliminated the constitutional right to abortion in 2022.
Is a foetus a living being? What does the law say?
- The Indian legal scenario is not clear on whether the foetus is a living being or not.
- A pro-choice discourse is not a materially and politically conducive argument for Indian society.
- Even if the Supreme Court takes a pro-choice view in this case, it will not be able to set a precedent for the future.
- The reason is that the Indian public health system is not geared up to address this and that private health care is very expensive.
- Getting a safe abortion in India has become very precarious.
Observations by the CJI-headed Bench
- The top court asked the woman to reconsider her decision to terminate the pregnancy and carry the foetus for a few more weeks so that the child isn’t born with any deformities.
- The Bench observed that there are rights of the unborn child too and that a woman’s autonomy is also important.
- The Bench said that the rights of the unborn child should also be balanced.
- The woman was unwilling to continue with her pregnancy even after the AIIMS report.
- She has said that she was under medication for post-partum depression and other medical issues.
- The three-judge Bench, headed by the CJI, asked the AIIMS medical board to examine if there is any abnormality in the foetus.
- The apex court also asked the medical board to examine the health status of the woman, who says she is suffering from depression and severe post-partum psychosis.
- The government has also offered to take care of the child and put it up for adoption if the woman agrees to carry it full term.Topic 5 : Kawar Lake
Why in news: Bihar’s only wetland of international importance under the Ramsar Convention, the Kawar lake lies neglected and is on the brink of drying up.
- While the state has many wetlands, only one is recognised — Kawar Lake in Begusarai was declared a Ramsar site in August 2020.
- There are a total of 75 Ramsar sites in India.
- The state has 403,209 hectares of wetlands, making up about 4.4 per cent of the total geographical area of Bihar.
- Four wetlands were identified for inclusion as Ramsar sites.
- Gogabil lake
- Udaipur lake
- Vikramshila Gangetic Dolphin Sanctuary
- Gokul reservoir
- The major obstacles for wetland conservation in Bihar are:
- migratory bird hunting,
- agriculture around wetland areas and g
- overnment policies for wetland management and conservation.
- The government is recognsing the importance of saving wetlands from issues like irregular rainfall, water management problems or large-scale damage during floods.
- However, despite orders, no effect is visible on the ground.
- If the government does not take timely action, urbanisation and land acquisition will destroy the wetlands.
Problems faced by the Kawar Lake:
- The water level in Kawar Lake, also known as Gokhur lake, is significantly low due to a deficit rainfall this monsoon.
- About 20,000 Nishad community of 16 villages adjacent to the lake are dependent on fishing from this lake.
- The population in the region is rapidly growing, but the lake no longer has water like it used to.
- The lake has been drying up since 2010.
- The amount of silt in the lake has been increasing for year, reducing the depth of the waterbody.
- Deforestation, dominance of rich farmers, unsustainable farm land disputes and silt accumulation are the major challenges for Kawar tal (lake).
More about Kawar lake:
- The Kanwar Taal is Asia’s largest freshwater oxbow lake.
- In 2020, the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) declared it the first Ramsar site in Bihar.
- It covers 2,620 hectares of the Indo-Gangetic plains in the northern Bihar State.
- Five critically endangered species inhabit the site, including:
- three vultures – the red-headed vulture (Sarcogyps calvus), white-rumped vulture (Gyps bengalensis) and Indian vulture (Gyps indicus) – and
- two waterbirds, the sociable lapwing (Vanellus gregarius) and Baer’s pochard (Aythya baeri).Topic 6 : Angel tax for start-ups
Why in news: The Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT) has stepped in to direct its officers to not carry out scrutiny of angel tax provisions for start-ups recognised by the Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade (DPIIT).
What Is Angel Tax?
- Angel tax is a tax assessed on capital raised by firms from angel investors.
- This is thought to have repercussions for the Indian startup ecosystem as a whole, making it harder for start-ups to raise capital and expand their operations.
- It is the tax imposed under Section 56(2)(viib) of the Income Tax Act of 1961 on capital raised by privately held companies through the issuance of shares to a resident.
- The consideration for the above exceeds the face value and the Fair Market Value (FMV) of the shares issued.
- In the startup community, this tax is more commonly referred to as the “Angel Tax.”
- The rich individuals (referred to as “angels”) who make significant investments in start-ups and hazardous businesses during their early phases, before they have gained widespread recognition, give rise to the term “angel tax.
Justification For The Angel Tax
- The main goal of this taxation is to implement measures to tax private corporations’ excessive share premiums obtained above and beyond the FMV, which were frequently utilised as a cover for previously unexplained funds and as a means of collecting corporate kickbacks.
- This is essentially one of the anti-abuse rules that was implemented to stop money laundering.
The new tax directive on start-ups
- Under the CASS (Computer-Assisted Scrutiny Selection), the CBDT in its directive has stated that procedure has been laid out for the assessment of such startup companies, which have been recognized by the DPIIT and no verification is required for such start-ups for notices related to the amended provisions for angel tax.
- This clarification by the tax department comes after many startups had raised concerns about receiving scrutiny notices for angel tax.
- The CBDT has outlined two scenarios:
- Firstly, where the case of such start-up company is selected under scrutiny on the single issue of applicability of section 56 (2) (viib) of the Income-tax Act, no verification on such issues shall be done by the Assessing Officers during the proceedings of the Act and contention of such recognized start-up companies on the issue will be summarily accepted.
- Secondly, where the case of such start-up company is selected under scrutiny with multiple issues including the issue under section 56 (2) (viib) of the I-T Act, the issue of applicability of section 56 (2)(viib) of the Act shall not be pursued during the assessment proceedings of such startup company.
What is angel tax for start-ups ?
- Angel tax – which is income tax at the rate of 30.6 per cent – is levied when an unlisted company issues shares to an investor at a price higher than its fair market value.
- Earlier, it was imposed only on investments made by a resident investor.
- However the Finance Act 2023 proposed to extend angel tax even to non-resident investors from April 1.
What were the changes for angel tax in Budget 2023-24?
- The Finance Act, 2023, had amended the Income-tax Act.
- The provision, colloquially known as the ‘angel tax’ was first introduced in 2012 to deter the generation and use of unaccounted money through the subscription of shares of a closely held company at a value that is higher than the fair market value of the firm’s shares.
- The provision had stated that when an unlisted company, such as a start-up, receives equity investment from a resident for issue of shares that exceeds the face value of such shares, it will be counted as income for the start-up and be subject to income tax under the head ‘Income from other Sources’ for the relevant financial year.
- With the latest amendment, the government had proposed to also include foreign investors in the ambit, meaning that when a start-up raises funding from a foreign investor, that too will now be counted as income and be taxable.
- The DPIIT-recognised startups were excluded from the angel tax levy.
- The Finance Ministry notified final valuation rules for foreign and domestic investors into unlisted companies such as start-ups under the new angel tax mechanism.
- The rules had accounted for the industry’s calls by addressing an additional sub-clause of compulsorily convertible preference shares (CCPS), stating that the valuation of CCPS can also be based on the fair market value of unquoted equity shares.
- Besides the discounted cash flow (DCF) method for resident investors, the tax department prescribed five valuation methods for non-resident investors:
- comparable company multiple method;
- probability weighted expected return method;
- option pricing method;
- milestone analysis method; and
- replacement cost method.
- The Finance Ministry had exempted investors from 21 countries including the US, UK and France from the levy of angel tax for non-resident investment in unlisted Indian start-ups.
- However, the list excluded investment from countries like Singapore, Netherlands and Mauritius – which have traditionally been key geographies for start-ups to raise money.Topic 7 : Israel, Hamas and the laws of war
Why in news: Hamas, a Palestine-based terrorist group, launched an attack on Israel, killing hundreds of civilians and taking many hostage.
The laws of war
- There are two separate and independent international lawquestions related to wars.
- First, under what conditions or when can countries use force in their international relations?
- This is known as jus ad bellum, regulated by the United Nations (UN) Charter.
- Second, how is a war to be fought, that is, what military actions are permissible?
- This is known as jus in bello.
- Assuming a country is justified under the UN Charter to use force, it still must ensure that it satisfies jus in bello obligations.
- Justification to use force does not relieve a country of its obligations to use such force in accordance with international law.
- The ‘how’ of using force or the law of war is known as international humanitarian law (IHL), which provides the rules that must be followed during an armed conflict.
- First, under what conditions or when can countries use force in their international relations?
- The Geneva Convention:
- IHL is contained in customary international law, the Geneva Conventions of 1949 and the Additional Protocols of 1977.
- It regulates the conduct of the parties or groups engaged in an armed conflict.
- Its primary objective is to protect civilians and reduce the suffering a war unleashes.
- No matter how just the cause of fighting a war, warring parties must comply with IHL.
Do the laws of war apply to the ongoing military conflict?
- Yes, because the military conflict between Israel and Hamas is an armed conflict.
- As was held by the International Criminal Tribunal, an armed conflict in international law exists when there is a resort to armed force between States or protracted armed violence between governmental authorities and organised armed groups or between such groups within a State.
- International law classifies armed conflicts into two categories:
- international armed conflict (IAC):
- IAC includes all cases of declared war or any other armed conflict between two or more countries.
- non-international armed conflict (NIAC):
- NIAC includes non-governmental forces (Hamas) involved in battle with governmental forces (Israel).
- Common Article 3 of the Geneva Convention applies to NIAC.
- Thus, Israel and Hamas are obliged to abide by IHL.
- international armed conflict (IAC):
What about civilian killings?
- The primary objective of IHL is that during an armed conflict, a distinction is always made between combatants and civilians.
- War parties can only attack combatants and military targets, not civilians and civilian objects.
- Indiscriminate attacks that fail to distinguish between combatants and civilians are forbidden and thus illegal.
- Accordingly, the killing of civilians by Hamas is illegal.
- Any military attack that causes disproportionate harm to civilians, when judged against the expected military benefit, is barred.
- Israel reportedly dropped 6,000 bombs on Gaza, causing widespread destruction and death which is a disproportionate use of force.
- Hamas’s horrific attack on Israel does not justify Israel inflicting disproportionate harm on the civilian population in Gaza.
- All this amounts to grave breaches of the 1949 Geneva Conventions and constitutes as war crimes.
The case of hostage-taking:
- Hamas taking Israelis hostage is illegal.
- Hostage-taking is specifically recognised as a war crime by Article 8 of the Rome Statute.
- It is a treaty establishing the International Criminal Court.
- It recognises hostage-taking as a crime.
The Gaza Strip blockade
- The concept of collective punishment:
- Israel’s plan to block the supplies of food, electricity, water, and fuel in the Gaza Strip, where close to two million people live, amounts to collective punishment.
- Collective punishment means retaliating against a group for the conduct of individual/s said to belong to that group.
- This action will exacerbate the already harsh air and sea blockade of the Gaza Strip since 2007.
- Such an action violates a fundamental tenet of IHL that no person should be punished for actions they didn’t commit.
- Punishing all Gaza Strip residents for Hamas’s actions is illegal and a war crime.
- Advance warnings:
- Under IHL, warring parties must give advance warning to civilians to evacuate before attacking, which should be effective.
- If civilians are not given adequate time to evacuate, the warning will be ineffective.
- Israel’s warning to the residents of the Gaza Strip is not effective.
- Given the air and sea blockade, the civilians do not have a realistic possibility of moving to safe places.
- In any case, civilians who do not move out despite the warning must also be protected.
- Both sides need to respect their IHL obligations and an investigation should be launched into the war crimes committed.