Contents:

  1. Trump Backs Away from Further Conflict After Iran Hits U.S. Troops
  2. Cabinet Approves Ordinance enabling FDI in Coal Mining
  3. Northeast Gas Grid gets Government Funding
  4. Ukrainian plane crash in Iran kills all 176 on board
  5. Won’t give Black Boxes to U.S. : Iran
  6. India asks citizens to avoid non-essential travel to Iraq
  7. Analysis: What is next in Iran-U.S. conflict?
  8. SC to hear govt. plea to transfer petitions against CAA in High Courts

TRUMP BACKS AWAY FROM FURTHER CONFLICT AFTER IRAN HITS U.S. TROOPS

Why in news?

  • U.S. President Donald Trump  said on 8th January 2020, that Iranian missile strikes on bases in Iraq had not harmed any U.S. troops stationed there and damage was minimal, an outcome he said showed Tehran wanted to prevent an escalation into conflict.
  • Iranian Forces fired missiles at military bases housing U.S. Troops in Iraq on 8th saying it was in retaliation for the killing of Iranian Commander Quassem Soleimani on January 3rd.
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Iran US Tensions after Soleimani death

Details

  • Trump urged world powers to quit a 2015 nuclear accord with Iran that Washington withdrew from in 2018 and work for a new deal, an issue that has been at the heart of rising tensions between Washington and Tehran.
  • Iran has rejected new talks.
  • Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif had said the strikes “concluded” Tehran’s response to the killing of Soleimani
  • Soleimani was responsible for building up Iran’s network of proxy armies across the Middle East.

CABINET APPROVES ORDINANCE ENABLING FDI IN COAL MINING

Why in news?

The Union Cabinet on 8th January 2019, approved an ordinance to amend two laws to ease mining rules, enabling foreign direct investment (FDI) in coal mining.

Details

  • The ordinance amends the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Act, 1957, and Coal Mines (Special Provisions) Act, 2015.
  • The ordinance will amend the current proviso in the law that allows only companies in coal mining to bid for coal mines.
  • The move will boost both production and mining efficiency besides substituting import of coal worth Rs 30,000 crore.
  • This is a bid to attract investments and boost domestic coal production.
  • This decision would boost the ease of doing business and increase growth avenues for coal mining.
  • It would help the Government’s aim to achieve production of 1 billion tonnes of coal by 2023-2024.
  • The move will help create an efficient energy market, usher in competition and reduce coal imports, while also ending the monopoly (while being “supported and strengthened”) of state-owned Coal India Ltd.
  • It will open up coal mining in the country to non-coal companies while removing restrictions on end-use of the fuel facilitating anyone to participate in the auction of coal blocks.

Prelims bits

  • India’s coal sector was nationalised in 1973.
  • More than 90% of the world’s total proved coal reserves are located in just ten countries.
  • The US tops the list holding more than one-fifth of the total proven coal reserves.
  • China ranks third and is the biggest producer and consumer of coal.
  • India’s proven coal reserves as of December 2018 accounted for more than 9% of the world’s total (5th Highest).
  • The major hard coal deposits of India are located in the eastern states of Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Orissa, and West Bengal, which account for more than 70% of the country’s coal reserves.
  • India is the second-biggest coal producer and consumer.
  • More than 70% of India’s electricity generation is based on coal.

NORTHEAST GAS GRID GETS GOVERNMENT FUNDING

Why in news?

  • Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA) on 8th January approved a ₹5,559 crore viability gap funding for the proposed Northeast Gas Grid.

Details

  • The 1,656-km North-East Natural Gas Pipeline Grid will connect Guwahati in Assam to major cities in the region such as Itanagar, Dimapur, Kohima, Imphal, Aizwal, Agartala, Shillong, Silchar, Gangtok, and Numaligarh.
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North-East Gas Pipeline Map
  • The pipeline will enable the supply of piped cooking gas to households and CNG to automobiles, besides fuel to industry.
  • The North-East pipeline grid is to be implemented by Indradhanush Gas Grid, a joint venture of state-owned GAIL India, Indian Oil Corp (IOC), Oil and Natural Gas Corp (ONGC), Oil India Ltd (OIL) and Numaligarh Refinery Ltd (NRL).
  • The consortium had pitched for a 60 per cent funding support from the government and would raise the rest via equity and debt. Without government support, the pipeline will not be viable.
  • The pipeline will not be viable due to the absence of anchor customers.
  • Availability of natural gas across the region is expected to boost industrial growth without impacting the environment and would offer better quality of life to the people in general due to use of cleaner and green fuel.

Gas pipeline projects in the past

  • This is the second time that a gas pipeline project in the country will be funded by the government.
  • In 2016, the government provided a capital grant of ₹5,176 crore, or 40% of the project cost of the 2,655-km Jagdishpur-Haldia and Bokaro-Dhamra (JHBDPL) gas pipeline project, which GAIL is currently executing.

UKRAINIAN PLANE CRASH IN IRAN KILLS ALL 176 ON BOARD

Why in news?

A Ukrainian airliner crashed shortly after take­off from Tehran on Wednesday killing all 176 on board, mainly Iranians and Canadians.

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Ukraine on map with neighbouring countries

How did the crash occur?

  • The crash occurred amid high tensions in West Asia and shortly after Tehran launched missiles at bases in Iraq housing U.S. troops.
  • But there was no immediate indication of foul play and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky warned against “speculating” on the cause of the disaster.

WON’T GIVE BLACK BOXES TO U.S.: IRAN

Why in news?

  • Iran’s aviation authority said it would not hand over to Americans the recovered black boxes of a Boeing 737 that crashed on 8th January, killing all 176 passengers and crew.

Details

  • Under the rules of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), of which Iran, Ukraine and the U.S. are all members, air crash investigations are led by the country where the accident occurred.
  • However, according to aviation experts, the countries that are capable of analysing black boxes are few — notably Britain, France, Germany and the U.S.
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Ukrainian Plane Crash in Tehran

What is Black Box?

  • A flight recorder is an electronic recording device placed in an aircraft for the purpose of facilitating the investigation of aviation accidents and incidents.
  • Flight recorders are also known by the misnomer black box—they are in fact bright orange to aid in their recovery after accidents.
  • There are two different flight recorder devices:
    • The flight data recorder (FDR) preserves the recent history of the flight through the recording of dozens of parameters collected several times per second
    • The cockpit voice recorder (CVR) preserves the recent history of the sounds in the cockpit, including the conversation of the pilots.
  • The two devices may be combined in a single unit. Together, the FDR and CVR give an accurate testimony, narrating the aircraft’s flight history, to assist in any later investigation.

INDIA ASKS CITIZENS TO AVOID NON-ESSENTIAL TRAVEL TO IRAN

  • In light of the turmoil in Iraq, India has issued a travel advisory to avoid “non-essential” travel to that country.
  • “In view of the prevailing situation in Iraq,” as a precautionary measure, the Ministry of External Affairs has issued a travel advisory -“Indian nationals are advised to avoid all non-essential travel to Iraq until further notification,” the Ministry said.
  • The travel advisory also advised Indian nationals residing in Iraq “to be alert and may avoid travel within Iraq”.
  • The Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) has asked Indian airline companies to remain vigilant and take all precautions in airspace over Iran, Iraq, Gulf of Oman and waters of Persian Gulf, hours after a Ukrainian International airlines carrying about 180 passengers crashed near Tehran in Iran.

ANALYSIS: WHAT IS NEXT IN IRAN-U.S. CONFLICT?

  • Five days after Major General Qassem Soleimani, the Quds Force chief, was killed in a U.S. air strike outside Baghdad airport, Iran on 8th January 2020, launched ballistic missile attacks at American troops in two military bases in Iraq.

Statements:

  • Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps has said that the attacks on the Erbil and Al-Asad bases were a retaliation for the killing of the General, who was one of the top military leaders of the country and the main architect of Iran’s foreign security and intelligence operations.
  • Initial reports suggest that there are no American casualties, though damage and military assessments are still under way.

Analysis

  • Whether there were American casualties or not, this is a pivotal moment in the U.S.-Iran tensions as this is the first time Iran is launching a direct attack at the U.S. troops and owning it up.
  • Practically, these are acts of war, though there’s no formal war declaration. First, the U.S. took out an Iranian military leader in a third country and now Iran has struck U.S. troops.
  • Iran has launched a calculated, limited strike that doesn’t cause much damage to the Americans but yet makes good on its pledge for revenge.
  • It is an escalating step, but not yet an all-out war.

Possible Outcomes:

If there are no American casualties, a red line drawn by President Trump — he could shrug the Iranian response off and choose not to retaliate, which could be a de-escalating step.

But there are several scenarios that could lead the conflict to an all-out war.

  • First, if Mr. Trump orders air strikes inside Iran, it would trigger further military response from Iran and the conflict will immediately spiral out of control.
  • Second, even if Mr. Trump steps back from further retaliation, Iran could target U.S. troops inside Iraq through its proxies such as the Badr Brigade and Kataib Hezbollah. That will drag the U.S. into a deeper conflict.
  • Third, the Shia militias operate with relative autonomy. Tehran may not be micromanaging them. Infuriated by the loss of their commander, they could act without authorisation from Tehran against U.S. troops in Iraq, which could trigger a harsher response from the U.S. against Iran, dragging both countries into war.

SC TO HEAR GOVERNMENT’S PLEA TO TRANSFER PETITIONS AGAINST CAA IN HIGH COURTS

Why in news?

  • The Supreme Court agreed to hear on January 10th 2020, a plea made by the government to transfer pending writ petitions challenging the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) of 2019 in various High Courts across the country to the apex court.
  • Concern raised was: a probability that various High Courts might deliver mutually conflicting views on the legality of the CAA, leading to confusion.

What are the petitions about?

  • The petitions in the Supreme Court argue that the law welcomes “illegal migrants” into India selectively on the basis of their religion and pointedly exclude Muslims. It has an “unholy nexus” with the National Register of Citizens (NRC) exercise and is against the principles of secularism, right to equality and dignity of life enshrined in the basic structure of the Constitution.
  • While the NRC exercise will result in identification of persons as “illegal migrants”, the CAA seeks to simultaneously offer citizenship to illegal migrants who are Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis or Christians on the presumed ground of persecution, they contend.
  • The new citizenship law fast tracks citizenship by naturalisation for minority Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi or Christian migrants from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh who enter India illegally, claiming religious persecution in their native countries.
  • But the new law does not impose any requirement on illegal migrants from the six religions to prove their claim of religious persecution or even a reasonable fear of it.
  • The petitions argue that the legislation effectuates discrimination on the basis of the intrinsic and core identity of an individual, that is, his religious identity as a Muslim.
  • The Act ensures that only an illegal immigrant who is Muslim would be singled out and prosecuted under the Passports (Entry into India) Act, 1920 or the Foreigners Order 1949 and deprived of his personal liberty.
  • On the other hand, illegal migrants from the six protected religions would be entitled with Indian citizenship and the benefits that come with it. While Muslim migrants would have to show their proof of residency in India for at least 11 years, the law allows illegal migrants from the six communities to be naturalised in five years’ time.
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