1. Quad is a ‘force for good’: Modi
Countries at the summit launch maritime initiative to track ‘dark shipping’
The Quadrilateral alliance (Quad) is a “force for good”, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said in his opening remarks at its summit in Tokyo on Tuesday. The event witnessed the launch of several initiatives, including a maritime project that will allow the tracking of “dark shipping” across the Indo-Pacific region.
“Our confidence and determination are strengthening the democratic forces. Our cooperation at the level of Quad is aimed at an inclusive Indo-Pacific region. We increased cooperation during the COVID-19 regarding vaccine delivery, climate action, supply chain resilience, disaster response,” he noted.
The summit among the leaders of Australia, India, Japan and the United States took place exactly three months after Russia launched the invasion of Ukraine that has sent shockwaves across the geopolitical system, affecting energy, and food markets.
Silent about Ukraine
Mr. Modi, however, remained silent about the Ukraine crisis in his opening remarks. A joint statement issued after the meeting addressed the concerns arising out of the crisis. It said the member countries “discussed respective responses to the conflict in Ukraine and the ongoing tragic humanitarian crisis and assessed its implications for the Indo-Pacific”.
One of the several “implications” of the Ukraine crisis that has been discussed since Russia launched the attack has focused on possible Chinese military moves in the Indo-Pacific region. The summit’s concerns were played out almost simultaneously as a joint patrol by the Russian and Chinese forces took place near the Japanese territories, drawing global attention.
Apart from the Ukraine crisis, the leaders also took note of the post-coup crackdown in Myanmar and called for the release of “all political detainees, including foreigners”. They also sought the “swift restoration of democracy”. In this regard, they welcomed the role of the Special Envoy of the ASEAN Chair.
“Quad has adopted a constructive agenda for the Indo-Pacific region. This will further enhance Quad’s image as a force for good,” Mr. Modi said. He congratulated the newly elected Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, who flew to Tokyo a day after defeating incumbent Prime Minister Scott Morrison.
The leaders of the Quad countries announced the formation of the Indo-Pacific Partnership for Maritime Domain Awareness (IPMDA), which will build a “faster, wider, and more accurate maritime picture of near-real-time activities in partners’ waters.”
“The benefits of this (maritime) picture are vast: it will allow tracking of “dark shipping” and other tactical-level activities, such as rendezvous at sea, as well as improve partners’ ability to respond to climate and humanitarian events and to protect their fisheries, which are vital to many Indo-Pacific economies,” a factsheet regarding the summit announced.
2. Qutub Minar not a place of worship: ASI
It opposes appeal against dismissal of civil suit seeking ‘restoration’ of 27 temples
The Qutub Minar complex is not a place of worship and its character cannot be changed now, the Archaeological Survey of India submitted in a Delhi court on Tuesday while opposing a plea challenging the dismissal of a civil suit seeking “restoration” of Hindu and Jain temples on the premises.
The original suit, which claimed that 27 temples were demolished to build the Quwwat-ul-Islam mosque at the Qutub Minar complex, was dismissed last year under the provisions of Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Act, 1991.
Court reserves order
Additional District Judge (ADJ) Nikhil Chopra has reserved the order on the plea for June 9.
Arguing before the ADJ at a Saket court, petitioner Hari Shankar Jain said the dismissal of the original suit based on the 1991 Act was wrong as the Qutub Minar complex comes under the purview of the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains (AMASR) Act of 1958.
The ASI, however, submitted that the Qutub Minar complex was not a place of worship when it was first notified as a protected monument in 1914.
Advocate S. Gupta, appearing for the ASI, explained that the character of a monument is decided on the date when it comes under protection. Following this, objections from the public are invited for two months. This is how several places where religious practices were being conducted came to be protected under the AMASR Act, the ASI explained, adding that the petitioner cannot at this juncture seek to change the character of the monument.
While hearing the arguments, ADJ Chopra noted that the central question appears to revolve around the character of the monument.
Mr. Jain cited the Ayodhya Ram Janmabhoomi judgment to argue that the character of the area remained that of a temple as the structure was built by allegedly demolishing Hindu and Jain temples.
In its submissions, the ASI said remains of 27 temples were procured for the mosque by spending 2,00,000 Deliwals (coins) on each. It added that nowhere in the records does it mention that these remains were retrieved by demolishing temples.
The court said that the petitioner is seeking to turn the monument into a place of worship based on a claim that a temple complex existed there 800 years ago. “Deity has survived without worship for 800 years, why not let it survive like that?” the court said on a lighter note.
3. On Quad; its origins, goals and future plans
Which countries are the core members of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue? Did the rise of China in the region play a role in its formation?
India, the U.S., Australia, and Japan are meeting for the second in-person summit of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue or Quad in Tokyo which commenced yesterday on May 24.
The Quad is an informal multilateral grouping of India, the U.S., Australia, and Japan aimed at cooperation for a free and open Indo-Pacific region. A major basis for the grouping is to check China’s growing influence in the region.
Mr. Biden unveiled the ‘Indo-Pacific Economic Framework’ (IPEF) on May 23, which, according to Reuters is a programme to bind countries in the region more closely through common standards in areas including supply-chain resilience, clean energy, infrastructure and digital trade.
The story so far: The leaders of four countries — India, the U.S., Australia, and Japan — are meeting for the second in-person summit of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue or Quad in Tokyo which commenced yesterday on May 24. A lot has changed, since the first in-person meeting of the Quad in September last year.
The ongoing Russia-Ukraine crisis has triggered geopolitical shifts, driven up global inflation, and affected supply chains amid a slew of western sanctions on Moscow. In March this year, Quad leaders discussed the situation in Ukraine in an unscheduled virtual meeting called by U.S President Joe Biden.
What is the Quad and why was it formed?
The Quad is an informal multilateral grouping of India, the U.S., Australia, and Japan aimed at cooperation for a free and open Indo-Pacific region. The region, composed of two oceans and spanning multiple continents is a hub of maritime trade and naval establishments. While not stated explicitly by the leaders, a major basis for the grouping is to check China’s growing influence in the region.
After the Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004 wreaked havoc in the region now called the Indo-Pacific, India stepped up its rescue efforts not just on its own shores but also provided assistance to its maritime neighbours: Sri Lanka, the Maldives and Indonesia. Soon, the disaster relief effort was joined by three other naval powers — the U.S., Australia and Japan, with then U.S. President George W. Bush announcing that the four countries would set up an international coalition to coordinate the massive effort.
While the charge of the rescue operations was handed over to the United Nations shortly after, it led to the birth of a new framework: the Quadrilateral or Quad. Then Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who had been promoting the idea of an “arc of prosperity and freedom” that brought the Quad countries closer together, further developed the concept and discussed it with then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh during a summit in December 2006. The grouping held a meeting in May 2007 but did not release an official statement. The 2007 Indo-U.S. Malabar naval exercises also saw the partial involvement of Japan, Australia and Singapore. The exercises and coordination were seen by China as an attempt to encircle it, which termed the grouping as trying to build “an Asian NATO”.
The Quad lost momentum post the 2007 meeting as the effort “dissipated amidst member leadership transitions, concerns about economic repercussions from China, and attention to other national interests,” according to the U.S. Congressional Research Service.
The grouping was only revived an entire decade later in 2017, at a time when all four countries had revised their assessment of the China challenge; and India had witnessed the Doklam standoff. Leaders of all four countries met in the Philippines for the ‘India-Australia-Japan-U.S.’ dialogue, not referred to as a Quad dialogue to avoid the notion of a “gang-up”. Even at this point, a set of objectives, areas of cooperation, and even the definition of Indo-Pacific were not fixed among Quad members.
It was in March 2021 that Mr. Biden, Mr. Modi, Australia’s outgoing Prime Minister Scott Morrison, and then Japanese PM Yoshihide Suga met virtually, for the first time as an official Quad summit, releasing a set of objectives for the grouping in a joint statement called the ‘The Spirit of the Quad’.
What were the objectives of the grouping?
The March 2021 virtual summit gave rise to the main objectives of the Quad, outlined actionable goals, and formed expert working groups in multiple areas.
Coming together to foster a free and open Indo-Pacific formed the bedrock of cooperation. “We recommit to promoting the free, open, rules-based order, rooted in international law and undaunted by coercion, to bolster security and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific and beyond,” the joint statement said. Emphasis was laid on “rule of law, territorial integrity, freedom of navigation and overflight, peaceful resolution of disputes, and democratic values” in the region.
The other areas of immediate focus were the pandemic through strengthening equitable vaccine access for the Indo-Pacific, combating climate change, sharing critical technologies, cyber security, supply chain resilience, and infrastructure and connectivity projects.
Quad leaders launched the Quad Vaccine Initiative (QVI) with the aim of manufacturing and distributing at least a billion COVID-19 vaccines for the Asia region by the end of 2022. The plan was to manufacture U.S. developed vaccines in India with financing provided by the U.S. and Japan, and delivery undertaken by Australia and Japan to countries in Southeast Asia. The plan, however, has had trouble taking off for multiple reasons including legal indemnity issues with Indian law, safety concerns around the vaccine facility (of Pharma Biological E in Hyderabad), and lower demand for vaccines in South East Asia. As for emerging technologies, the four countries aimed to work on the development and diversification of 5G telecommunications and the creation of supply chains for critical minerals and technologies for making semiconductors used in smartphones, another area where China is a leader.
Quad nations had also agreed to build joint connectivity projects and transparent infrastructure funding for countries in the region. The emphasis on connectivity saw the Quad challenge China in another sphere: a coordinated effort to provide financing and sustainable alternatives to China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), which has led many nations to take loans and accept infrastructure bids from Beijing.
The Quad also created a working group for combating climate change which would oversee efforts to foster green shipping by decarbonising maritime supply chains and promoting the use of clean hydrogen.
What are the future plans of the Quad?
According to a statement released by the Ministry of External Affairs about the agenda of the May 24 summit, “The Leaders will review the progress of Quad initiatives and Working Groups, identify new areas of cooperation and provide strategic guidance and vision for future collaboration”. The Quad summit is expected to discuss the Russian war in Ukraine, and the impact of three months of Western sanctions. Mr. Biden said yesterday that the world was “navigating a dark hour” with Russia’s attack on Ukraine, adding that the war made evident the need for decent international order.
(India is the only member of the Quad that has not joined sanctions against Russia, while also ramping up its intake of Russian oil — an estimated 40 million barrels more than it had in all of 2021).
Mr. Biden also unveiled the ‘Indo-Pacific Economic Framework’ (IPEF) on May 23, which, according to Reuters is a programme to bind countries in the region more closely through common standards in areas including supply-chain resilience, clean energy, infrastructure and digital trade.
Mr. Modi, who attended the launch, signalled India’s readiness to join the economic initiative. Indian officials had earlier expressed, however, that India was likely to be cautious about its participation in the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework as it could be seen as a counter to the 15-nation Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership and the 17-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership that China is a member of. Quad members also launched a maritime monitoring plan to curb illegal fishing in the Indo-Pacific. Several countries have objected to Chinese fishing vessels often violating their exclusive economic zones resulting in economic losses, while also engaging in deep-sea trawling, which causes environmental damage.
4. Centre scraps import duties on crude sunflower, soyabean oils
Bid to tame inflation; after wheat, export of sugar restricted to 10 million tonnes
In a bid to cool inflation in edible oils, the Centre on Tuesday allowed duty-free import of 20 lakh tonnes each of crude soyabean oil and crude sunflower oil for this year as well as 2023-24.
Retail inflation in edible oils and fats was 18.8% in March and 17.3% in April, and sunflower oil imports have been constricted due to the ongoing Russia-Ukraine conflict since February 24.
The Finance Ministry has notified the duty structure changes which will become operational from May 25, stating that this would provide significant relief to consumers.
Ukraine was the world’s largest sunflower oil exporter before the conflict began and India has been striving to tap alternative supplies from rival Russia and countries such as Argentina.
Last October, the government reduced the basic import duties on edible oils amid runaway prices.
The import duty on crude palm oil was slashed to 2.5%, from 10%, while those on crude soya and sunflower oils were cut to 2.5%, from 7.5%.
In another development, after wheat, the Centre has decided to restrict the export of sugar to 10 million tonnes.
The Union Department of Food and Public Distribution said in a statement here on Tuesday the decision was in the wake of “unprecedented growth in exports of sugar” and the need to maintain sufficient stock of sugar in the country. It is for the first time in six years that the Centre is regulating sugar exports. The move will come into effect from June 1.
According to the Indian Sugar Mills Association (ISMA), the industry has signed contracts to export over 8.5 million tonnes of sugar.
Of these, around 7.1 million tonnes have been physically exported out of the country till the end of April.
In the last year, the country had exported 4.3 million lakh tonnes till April, 2021.
5. Ayushman Bharat Health Account app relaunched
New user interface, more utilities
The National Health Authority (NHA), under its flagship scheme of Ayushman Bharat Digital Mission (ABDM), on Tuesday announced the launch of a revamped Ayushman Bharat Health Account (ABHA) mobile application.
The ABHA app, previously known as the NDHM Health Records app, is available on the Google Play Store and already has over four lakh downloads.
The updated version of the app has a new user interface (UI) and added functionalities that enable individuals to access their health records anytime and anywhere. The existing ABHA app users can also update their previous app versions to the latest one.
The ABHA app enables an individual to create an ABHA address (username@abdm), an easy-to-remember username that can be linked with the 14-digit randomly generated ABHA number. It also enables users to link their health records created at an ABDM-compliant health facility and view them on their smartphones.
It allows self-uploading of physical health records in the ABDM-compliant health lockers, along with sharing of digital health records such as diagnostic reports, prescriptions and CoWIN vaccination certificate after the consent of an individual through the ABDM network.
In addition to this, the app has new functionalities such as edit profile and link and unlink ABHA number (14 digit) with ABHA address. Other functionalities such as login via face and fingerprint authentication and ability to scan QR code at the counter of the ABDM-compliant facility for express registration shall also be released soon.
R.S. Sharma, CEO, National Health Authority (NHA), said: “The ABHA app will be instrumental in helping citizens to create their longitudinal health records.”
- Ayushman Bharat is a flagship scheme of Government of India, was launched as recommended by the National Health Policy 2017,to achieve the vision of Universal Health Coverage (UHC).
- It was launched in September 2018 by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.
- It is a national public health insurance fund of the Government of Indiathat aims to provide free access to health insurance coverage for low income earners in the country. Roughly, the bottom 50% of the country qualifies for this scheme.
- It is a centrally sponsored scheme and is jointly funded by both the union government and the states.
- This initiative has been designed to meet Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and its underlining commitment, which is to “leave no one behind.”
- By offering services to 50 crore (500 million) people it is the world’s largest government sponsored healthcare program.
- It covers all hospitalization expenses with cashless transactions to beneficiaries.
- Accommodation during hospitalization.
- Pre and post-hospitalization costs.
- Any complications arising during the treatment.
- Can be used by all family members.
- No cap on family size, age or gender.
- Pre-existing conditions are included from day one.