Daily Current Affairs 12.04.2021 (Iran Nuclear Test, Perrsonal Data Protection Bill, Going Backwards on Indian History)

Daily Current Affairs 12.04.2021 (Iran Nuclear Test, Perrsonal Data Protection Bill, Going Backwards on Indian History)


1. ‘Suspicious’ blackout hits Iran nuclear site

Israeli broadcaster Kan claims Mossad carried out the cyberattack; Tehran calls it nuclear terrorism

Iran’s underground Natanz nuclear facility lost power on Sunday just hours after starting up new advanced centrifuges capable of enriching uranium faster, the latest incident to strike the site amid negotiations over the tattered atomic accord with world powers.

Iran described a blackout at its Natanz atomic facility an act of “nuclear terrorism,” raising regional tensions.

Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, stopped short of directly blaming anyone for the incident. Details remained few about what happened early on Sunday morning at the facility, which initially was described as a blackout caused by the electrical grid feeding the site.

Multiple Israeli media outlets reported on Sunday that an Israeli cyberattack caused the blackout in Natanz. Public broadcaster Kan said the Mossad was behind the attack. Channel 12 TV cited “experts” as estimating the attack shut down entire sections of the facility. While the reports offered no sourcing for their information, Israeli media maintains a close relationship with the country’s intelligence agencies.

If Israel caused the blackout, it further heightens tensions between the two nations, already engaged in a shadow conflict across the wider West Asia.

Austin meets Netanyahu

“To thwart the goals of this terrorist movement, the Islamic Republic of Iran will continue to seriously improve nuclear technology on the one hand and to lift oppressive sanctions on the other hand,” Mr. Salehi said, according to state TV.

He added: “While condemning this desperate move, the Islamic Republic of Iran emphasises the need for a confrontation by the international bodies and the (International Atomic Energy Agency) against this nuclear terrorism.”

Sunday’s developments also complicates efforts by the U.S., Israel’s main security partner, to re-enter the atomic accord aimed at limiting Tehran’s nuclear programme. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who on Sunday met with U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, has vowed to do everything in his power to stop the nuclear deal.

“It’s hard for me to believe it’s a coincidence,” Yoel Guzansky, a senior fellow at Tel Aviv’s Institute for National Security Studies, said of Sunday’s blackout. “If it’s not a coincidence, and that’s a big if, someone is trying to send a message that ‘we can limit Iran’s advance and we have red lines.’” It also sends a message that Iran’s most sensitive nuclear site is “penetrable,” he added.

Israel typically doesn’t discuss operations carried out by its Mossad intelligence agency or specialised military units. In recent weeks, Mr. Netanyahu has repeatedly described Iran as the major threat to his country.

‘Sabotage, infiltration’

Malek Shariati Niasar, a Tehran-based lawmaker who serves as spokesman for the Iranian Parliament’s energy committee, wrote on Twitter that the incident was “very suspicious,” raising concerns about possible “sabotage and infiltration.” He said lawmakers were pursuing details of the incident as well.

Natanz was built largely underground to withstand enemy airstrikes. It became a flashpoint for Western fears about Iran’s nuclear plan in 2002, when satellite photos showed Iran building its underground centrifuges facility at the site.

Nuclear Suppliers Group

NSG is a group of nuclear supplier countries that frames and implements agreed rules for exporting nuclear equipment, with a view to controlling the spread of nuclear weapons

NSG was established in 1974 in the background of the Pokhran I peaceful nuclear explosion conducted by India in 1974. 

Task: It aim to ensure that nuclear trade for peaceful purposes does not contribute to the proliferation of nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices, while not hindering international trade and cooperation in the nuclear field. 

It facilitate the development of peaceful nuclear trade by providing the means whereby obligations to facilitate peaceful nuclear cooperation can be implemented in a manner consistent with international nuclear non-proliferation norms. 

Membership: 48 supplier states

Factors taken into account for membership include the following:

• The ability to supply items (including items in transit) covered by the annexes to Parts 1 and 2 of the NSG Guidelines;

• Adherence to the Guidelines and action in accordance with them;

• Enforcement of a legally based domestic export control system which gives effect to the commitment to act in accordance with the Guidelines;

•  Full compliance with the obligations of one or more of the following: the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), the Treaties of Pelindaba, Rarotonga, Tlatelolco, Bangkok, or an equivalent international nuclear nonproliferation agreement; and

• Support of international efforts towards nonproliferation of weapons of mass destruction and of their delivery vehicles.

India’s Quest for NSG Membership

•  Since 2008, India has been trying to join the group.

•  India submitted its membership application to the NSG in May 2016, a month before the Seoul plenary of the Group. However at the Seoul plenary group, India’s membership was blocked by China

Why India wants to become member of NSG? 

India is keen to become a member of the NSG (and other export control regimes such as the Wassenaar Agreement and Australia Group) due to various reasons:

Expansion of nuclear power generation: It will significantly expand its clean and green nuclear energy programme.

Short-comings in NSG waiver:

1.  Although the 2008 NSG waiver allows India to engage in civilian nuclear trade with other countries, but still this allows India to enter into an agreement with each country separately. It’s a piece-meal approach. 

2.  Membership of the NSG will provide a legal foundation for India’s nuclear regime and thus greater confidence for those countries investing in nuclear power projects in India. 

Nuclear export: 

1. It will enable India’s entry in the export market in the coming years.

2. India would like to make effective commercial use of its nuclear expertise in building pressurised heavy water reactors (PHWRs) of 220 MW or 540 MW capacities as well as its possible role as a supplier of special steels, large size forgings, control instruments and other nuclear components and services.

3. Indigenous development of nuclear reactors got further boost with the Indian government’s recent decision to set up 10 indigenous PHWRs of 700 MWe capacities each. This would strengthen India’s credibility as a manufacturer and potential supplier of nuclear reactors that are safe and cost-effective.

• A rule-creating nation instead of rule-adhering: Membership of NSG will move India into the category of international rule-creating nations rather than stay in the ranks of rule-adhering nations.

• International prestige: With its expanding international prestige and profile, India’s membership of NSG is of vital significance. 

• Integrating into the global export control regimes: Joining NSG is a part of larger goal of getting admission into the four global export control regimes – NSG, Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), Wassenaar Arrangement (WA) and Australia Group (AG). India is already a member of the MTCR.

What are the roadblocks in India’s membership to NSG? 

Since all decisions at NSG (including on membership) are taken by consensus, any country, small or big, can stand in the way of a consensus.

 Now majority of the countries support India’s membership (In June 2016, India became a Member of the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR). All 34 members of MTCR are members of the NSG. Thus India is assured of support of these 34 members in its quest for NSG membership. China is not a member of MTCR).

But China and China backed nations have openly opposed to India’s membership on following grounds:

• Non-signatory to NPT: India is not eligible to become a member of the NSG as it is not a member of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty (NPT), adherence to latter is necessary for membership in the former.

• Norm-based entry: China has also averred that for non-NPT members some definite criteria should be evolved rather than granting country specific waivers.  No single country waiver should be granted to India as was done in 2008. 

• Linking India’s membership with Pakistan: At other times, China has stated that Pakistan also has similar credentials to join the NSG; and that if India is admitted, Pakistan should also be admitted simultaneously. 

• Will fuel nuclear arms race in South Asia: If only India were to be admitted, it would disturb the nuclear-arms balance in South Asia as India will engage in a massive nuclear weaponisation programme. 

What is India’s response to Chinese apprehensions? 

According to India, most of the questions raised by China against India’s membership have little validity.

• Grossi process:

1. In December 2016, Rafael Mariano Grossi, the former NSG Chair, circulated a new draft formula among Nuclear Suppliers Group member states. 

2. Thus draft formula proposes “nine general commitments” that non-NPT countries “would need to make” in order to receive the “fullest” atomic trading privileges.

3.  According to analysts, India already fulfils all these nine criteria for becoming a NSG member.

• NPT membership is not mandatory: According to the guidelines adopted in 2001 at Aspen, membership of NPT is not a pre-condition for becoming a NSG member. It is only a guiding principle to which consideration needs to be given. 

• Impeccable track record:  If the NSG granted waiver to India in 2008 on the basis of its past performance, then it should have no objection in admitting India as a member because of India’s impeccable track-record in observing the provisions of the NPT and NSG, even though it has not been a member of either any of them.

• India’s view on Pakistan’s membership to NSG: Pakistan’s credentials for NSG membership are highly flawed and inadequate. Pakistan has a blemished and flawed proliferation record as it has engaged in illicit supply of nuclear technology and materials to Iran, Libya and North Korea. 

• On nuclear arms race: Since 2008, as per its commitment, India has separated its civilian and military nuclear programmes, and put the civilian part under International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards. 

• India’s view on criteria-based membership: India maintains that rather than evolving criteria, its performance should be the basis of its track record.

2. Centre to certify shrimp farms

The move is aimed at building exporters’ confidence in India’s frozen produce

To bolster confidence in India’s frozen shrimp produce, the country’s biggest seafood export item, the Centre has kicked off a new scheme to certify hatcheries and farms that adopt good aquaculture practices.

India exported frozen shrimp worth almost $5 billion in 2019-20 to the U.S. and China — its biggest buyers. But a combination of factors had hurt export volumes in recent months, including container shortages and incidents of seafood consignments being rejected because of food safety concerns.

“We have seen some recent consignments sourced from Indian shrimp farms being rejected due to the presence of antibiotic residue and this is a matter of concern for exporters,” a Commerce Ministry official said.

The Marine Products Exports Development Authority (MPEDA) has developed a certification scheme for aquaculture products called Shaphari, a Sanksrit word that means superior quality of fishery products suitable for human consumption.

“We already have a National Residue Control Programme for food safety issues in farm produce and pre-harvest testing system in place, but this certification was proposed as a market-based tool for hatcheries to adopt good aquaculture practices and help produce quality antibiotic-free shrimp products to assure global consumers,” the official said.

Frozen shrimp is India’s largest exported seafood item. It constituted 50.58% in quantity and 73.2% in terms of total U.S. dollar earnings from the sector during 2019-20. Andhra Pradesh, West Bengal, Odisha, Gujarat and Tamil Nadu are the major shrimp producing States, and around 95% of the cultured shrimp produce is exported.

“Overall, certified aquaculture products will help exporters to export their consignments to markets under stringent food safety regulations without the fear of getting rejected,” the official explained.

The Shaphari scheme is based on the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization’s technical guidelines on aquaculture certification and will have two components — certifying hatcheries for the quality of their seeds and, separately, approving shrimp farms that adopt the requisite good practices.

The certification of hatcheries will help farmers easily identify good quality seed producers. Those who successfully clear multiple audits of their operations shall be granted a certificate for a period of two years.

“The entire certification process will be online to minimise human errors and ensure higher credibility and transparency,” the official said, adding that the guidelines for certification of farms are under preparation in consultation with stakeholders.

National Fisheries Policy, 2020

Government has decided for introducing a comprehensive and integrated ‘National Fisheries Policy, 2020’.


  • National Fisheries Policy, 2020’ will integrate the National Policy on Marine Fisheries, 2017 (NPMF), the Draft National Inland Fisheries and Aquaculture Policy (NIFAP) and the Draft National Mariculture Policy (NMP) along with the elements of Post-Harvest.
  • Government of India has announced a new dedicated scheme for fisheries sector namely Pradhan Mantri Matsya Sampada Yojana (PMMSY) under Atmanirbhar Bharat COVID-19 Relief Package.

Pradhan Mantri Matsya Sampada Yojana (PMMSY)

PMMSY is a scheme to bring about Blue Revolution through sustainable and responsible development of fisheries sector.

The PMMSY will be implemented as an umbrella scheme with two separate Components, namely

  • Central Sector Scheme (CS) and
  • Centrally Sponsored Scheme (CSS).

The Centrally Sponsored Scheme (CSS) Component is further segregated into Non-beneficiary oriented and Beneficiary orientated sub­components/activities under the following three broad heads:

  1. Enhancement of Production and Productivity
  2. Infrastructure and Post-Harvest Management         
  3. Fisheries Management and Regulatory Framework

The Scheme will be implemented during a period of 5 years from FY 2020-21 to FY 2024-25.


  • Address the critical gaps in the fisheries sector and realize its potential.
  • Augmenting fish production and productivity at a sustained average annual growth rate of about 9% to achieve a target of 22 million metric tons by 2024-25 through sustainable and responsible fishing practices.
  • Improving availability of certified quality fish seed and feed, traceability in fish and including effective aquatic health management.
  • Creation of critical infrastructure including modernisation and strengthening of value chain.
  • Doubling   of fishers, fish farmers and fish workers incomes by 2024.
  • Social, physical and economic security for fishers and fish workers.

3. Editorial-1: Why the Personal Data Protection Bill matters

The proposed regime under the Bill seeks to be different from the existing regime which does not adequately protect users’ data

The pandemic has forced more people to participate in the digital economy. More people have taken to digital channels to fulfill a variety of needs like purchasing groceries and accessing health services. Unfortunately, the number of personal data breaches from major digital service providers has increased worryingly in the same period. The recent alleged data breach at MobiKwik could stand to be India’s biggest breach with the data of 9.9 crore users at risk. Robust data protection regimes are necessary to prevent such events and protect users’ interests. Unfortunately, the existing data protection regime in India does not meet this standard.

However, the Personal Data Protection Bill, 2019, now under scrutiny by a Joint Parliamentary Committee, could play a big role in providing robust protections to users and their personal data. In this context, this article seeks to answer a fundamental question: How can the Bill protect users’ interests in the digital economy?

No effective protection

How different entities collect and process users’ personal data in India is mainly governed by the Information Technology Act, 2000, and various other sectoral regulations. However, this data protection regime falls short of providing effective protection to users and their personal data.

For instance, entities could override the protections in the regime by taking users’ consent to processing personal data under broad terms and conditions. This is problematic given that users might not understand the terms and conditions or the implications of giving consent. Further, the frameworks emphasise data security but do not place enough emphasis on data privacy. In essence, while entities must employ technical measures to protect personal data, they have weaker obligations to respect users’ preferences in how personal data can be processed. As a result, entities could use the data for purposes different to those that the user consented to. The data protection provisions under the IT Act also do not apply to government agencies. This creates a large vacuum for data protection when governments are collecting and processing large amounts of personal data. Finally, the regime seems to have become antiquated and inadequate in addressing risks emerging from new developments in data processing technology.

The need for a more robust data protection legislation came to the fore in 2017 post the Supreme Court’s landmark judgment in Justice K.S. Puttaswamy (Retd) v. Union of India that established the right to privacy as a fundamental right. In the judgment, the Court called for a data protection law that can effectively protect users’ privacy over their personal data. Consequently, the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology formed a Committee of Experts under the Chairmanship of Justice (Retd) B.N. Srikrishna to suggest a draft data protection law. The Bill, in its current form, is a revised version of the draft legislative document proposed by the Committee.

The upcoming regime

The proposed regime under the Bill seeks to be different from the existing regime in some prominent ways. First, the Bill seeks to apply the data protection regime to both government and private entities across all sectors.

Second, the Bill seeks to emphasise data security and data privacy. While entities will have to maintain security safeguards to protect personal data, they will also have to fulfill a set of data protection obligations and transparency and accountability measures that govern how entities can process personal data to uphold users’ privacy and interests.

Third, the Bill seeks to give users a set of rights over their personal data and means to exercise those rights. For instance, a user will be able to obtain information about the different kinds of personal data that an entity has about them and how the entity is processing that data.

Fourth, the Bill seeks to create an independent and powerful regulator known as the Data Protection Authority (DPA). The DPA will monitor and regulate data processing activities to ensure their compliance with the regime. More importantly, the DPA will give users a channel to seek redress when entities do not comply with their obligations under the regime.

The Bill seeks to bring a massive and meaningful change to personal data protection in India through this regime. However, the reality could be different. Several provisions in the Bill create cause for concern about the regime’s effectiveness. These provisions could contradict the objectives of the Bill by giving wide exemptions to government agencies and diluting user protection safeguards.

For instance, under clause 35, the Central government can exempt any government agency from complying with the Bill. Government agencies will then be able to process personal data without following any safeguard under the Bill. This could create severe privacy risks for users.

Similarly, users could find it difficult to enforce various user protection safeguards (such as rights and remedies) in the Bill. For instance, the Bill threatens legal consequences for users who withdraw their consent for a data processing activity. In practice, this could discourage users from withdrawing consent for processing activities they want to opt out of.

Additional concerns also emerge for the DPA as an independent effective regulator that can uphold users’ interests.

The way forward

The time is ripe for India to have a robust data protection regime. The Joint Parliamentary Committee that is scrutinising the Bill has proposed 86 amendments and one new clause to the Bill – although the exact changes are not in the public domain. The Committee is expected to submit its final report in the Monsoon Session of Parliament in 2021. Taking this time to make some changes in the Bill targeted towards addressing various concerns in it could make a stronger and more effective data protection regime.

4. Editorial-2: Enforcing claims

India will have to deal with the open challenge the U.S. has posed to its maritime claims

For several years now, the relationship of the U.S. and India has been marked by their sensitivity to each other’s concerns as they deepened cooperation on strategic issues, and aligned positions on multilateral issues. As a result, the April 7 press release by the U.S. Navy that announced that its 7th fleet’s Destroyer, the USS John Paul Jones, had traversed India’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) in order to “challenge” India’s claim that it must be notified before any military activity in these waters came as a surprise, particularly as it followed two successful visits by senior U.S. officials, including the U.S. Defence Secretary and Climate Envoy to Delhi. In the press release, the U.S. Navy said its ship had “asserted navigational rights and freedoms approximately 130 nautical miles west of the Lakshadweep Islands, inside India’s exclusive economic zone, without requesting India’s prior consent,” claiming this was “consistent” with international law, referring to the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). While the U.S.’s decision to conduct “Freedom of Navigation Operations” (FONOPs) is not new, as it regularly carries out such operations in order to “assert” international law off the coasts of 19 countries, most notably China, what appears to be new is the statement issued by the U.S. Navy itself. The government, which responded to the operation on April 9, said it had expressed its “concerns” to the U.S. government through diplomatic channels. In addition, India contested the U.S. claim about international law, saying that UNCLOS did not authorise military manoeuvres on the continental shelf or EEZ, as the 7th fleet had carried out, without prior consent.

While the matter has been disposed of diplomatically for the moment, it is clear that the government must prepare to grapple with the issue with the U.S. in the long term. The U.S.’s announcement indicates that a new SOP (Standard Operating Procedure) for these FONOPs is being adopted. To begin with, the government must clearly explain its own position, making it clear to all partners how the Indian law governing maritime claims is in line with international law. Next, it must analyse the U.S.’s motivations for this belligerence, and chart out a course accordingly. Primarily, the U.S. naval actions maybe a message to China, whose maritime claims are increasingly coming into conflict with those of the U.S. and its allies, but Washington is attempting to send a broader message that it will not tolerate any other country’s claims. As New Delhi contends with this new reality, it must seek answers from Washington about how their newly intensified Quad partnership, especially their stated objective to cooperate on keeping a “free and open Indo-Pacific”, can co-exist with the open challenge the U.S. Navy has posed.

5. Editorial-3: Going backwards on Indian history

The latest UGC draft clings to colonial reasoning and ignores the diverse facets of our past

The recent University Grants Commission (UGC) directive framing the undergraduate history syllabus points to the involvement of ‘experts’ who are still stuck in the discipline as it was practised and taught years ago in the 1950s.

A crucial element of the discipline is its division into different periods, or periodisation. The notion of periodisation in history was alien to all societies and civilisations, until Europe instituted it towards the end of the 17th century, though its evolution had started from the 16th century in the history of Christian theology and its Church. The tripartite division of ancient, medieval and modern history was formalised by a German, Christoph Cellarius, in 1688, and was extended beyond theology and Church. Underlying it was the assumption that with the “modern” age of rationality, Europe had left its ‘dark age’ of superstition and irrationality behind. As Europe colonised the rest of the world, its intellectual constructs were universalised as well — among them was periodisation. If Europe had emerged from its “dark age”, the rest of the world was still lodged there and needed to emulate Europe’s progress.

Three periods

Its implantation in India came in a further distorted form: James Mill’s division of history into Hindu, Muslim and British periods in his notorious book A History of British India published in 1817. Whereas the ancient-medieval-modern nomenclature implied Europe’s emergence from the medieval “dark age” to the “modern” age of reason through its own autonomous evolution, India, in Mill’s vision, was still stuck in its own dark age of religion from which the British colonial rule was obligated to rescue it. Hence, the asymmetrical Hindu-Muslim-British period.

As a utilitarian, Mill treated religion with utter contempt. If his comments on Islam were derogatory, those on Hinduism were scandalous. “The vices of falsehood, indeed they carry to a height almost unexampled among the other races of men” is one of his moderate comments on Hindus. However, the periodisation schema became pervasive in every book of Indian history irrespective of its author. Its basic frame implied that Indian history predominantly comprised the accounts of conquests and defeats, administrative measures and relevant “policies” of dynasties and individual rulers, and that their driving force was their religious fervour. History could thus be divided into the Hindu period beginning with the Aryans (Harappa had not been discovered yet) and ending with the death of Harsha in 647 CE, the Muslim period from 1206 with the establishment of the Delhi Sultanate and ending with Aurangzeb’s death in 1707, and the British period opening roughly from 1765 with the grant of Diwani to the East India Company. The gaps between 647 CE and 1206 and 1707 and 1765 were marked by a historical drought.

Mill also emphasised the exclusivity of and implicitly irreconcilable hostility between the Hindu and Muslim communities, a precursor of the two-nation theory of Savarkar-Jinnah, which perhaps explains the UGC’s preference for it.

Even when the nomenclature of periods was altered to ‘ancient’, ‘medieval’ and ‘modern’ in 1903 by Stanley Lane-Poole, the basis of the division remained unaltered until after Independence. Notably, the new nomenclature came in his book Mediaeval India Under Mohammedan Rule. However, for any undergraduate in 1955-60 at Delhi University, almost the same dates demarcated the three periods, with Hindu-Muslim-British often interchanged with ancient-medieval-modern. The scope of the study also remained largely tied to Mill’s parameters.

Multi-layered explanations

The 1960s saw a sea change in Indian historians’ understanding of the past, which undermined the given periodisation. The study of history tied to the story of dynasties and rulers and which located all historical explanation in a single cause, namely religion, was found very restrictive.

As historians began to explore new facets of the past — social structures, economic drives, cultural mores, politics as exercises in the notions of power and social and ethical norms, confrontations and accommodations at the social, cultural and politico-administrative levels — the discipline began to move from hitherto simple explanations to complex, multi-layered ones.

An immediate and major casualty of this metamorphosis was the inherited periodisation and fixed dates of transition from one period to the other. Changes in reigns and dynasties can be traced to fixed dates and years, but social, economic and cultural changes occur as long-term processes that are hard to pin down to specific dates, years, or at times, even decades. It is interesting that while the tripartite schema of periodisation remained, its temporal boundaries began to get flexible to account for these. The notion of the ‘early medieval India’ was an important intervention covering changes at the ground level between, say, the eighth and the 12th centuries, both being porous boundaries, thus giving the term a new meaning.

The use of the pre-fix ‘pre-modern’ for the period starting from the 16th century has gained considerable traction in recent decades.

By the 1980s and thereafter, history began to acquire much more expansive dimensions, such as the study of ecology (of deserts, forests and rains), of women’s role in shaping history both in the household or in the community, or even at the level of the state, ever-evolving notions of time and space, perceptions of the past, gender identities of local or regional deities, or gender identities even of state systems, diseases and their cures, migrations all through history, the history of memories, the history of substructures sustaining massive imperial structures, and so on. All this is already percolating to undergraduate levels in universities and colleges.

The UGC draft is completely ignorant of these magnificent departures Indian history has registered since Independence and wants to take us back to James Mill’s colonial format, which is too simplistic academically to be tenable and has already demonstrated its social and political consequences in the country’s Partition. The prescribed reading list reinforces this ignorance by recommending books mostly written in the 1950s. Is this the grand vision for our ‘New India’?

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