Prelims Booster

25th July – Prelims Booster

Women in Army

Ministry of Defence has issued formal Government Sanction Letter for Grant of permanent commission (PC) to women officers in the Army.

Details –

The order specifies the grant of permanent commission to SSC women officers in all the 10 streams in which they presently serve — Army Air Defence, Signals, Engineers, Army Aviation, Electronics and Mechanical Engineers, Army Service Corps, Army Ordnance Corps and Intelligence Corps, in addition to the existing streams of Judge and Advocate General and Army Educational Corps

Background –

  • The induction of women officers in the Army started in 1992. They were commissioned for a period of five years in certain chosen streams such as Army Education Corps, Corps of Signals, Intelligence Corps, and Corps of Engineers.
  • Recruits under the Women Special Entry Scheme (WSES) had a shorter pre-commission training period than their male counterparts who were commissioned under the Short Service Commission (SSC) scheme.
  • In 2006, the WSES scheme was replaced with the SSC scheme, which was extended to women officers. They were commissioned for a period of 10 years, extendable up to 14 years. 
  • Serving WSES officers were given the option to move to the new SSC scheme, or to continue under the erstwhile WSES. They were to be however, restricted to roles in streams specified earlier — which excluded combat arms such as infantry and armoured corps.
  • While male SSC officers could opt for permanent commission at the end of 10 years of service, this option was not available to women officers. They were, thus, kept out of any command appointment, and could not qualify for government pension, which starts only after 20 years of service as an officer. The first batch of women officers under the new scheme entered the Army in 2008.

The battle in the courts / judicial intervention –

  • In 2003, a PIL was filed before the Delhi High Court for grant of permanent commission (PC) to women SSC officers in the Army. Another writ petition was filed in 2006, primarily to challenge the terms and conditions of service imposed by circulars earlier that year, and to seek PC for women officers.
  • In September 2008, the Defence Ministry passed an order saying PC would be granted prospectively to SSC women officers in the Judge Advocate General (JAG) department and the Army Education Corps (AEC). This circular was challenged before the Delhi High Court on the ground that it granted PC only prospectively, and only in certain specified streams.
  • The High Court heard the 2003, 2006, and 2008 challenges together, and passed its judgment in 2010. Women officers of the Air Force and Army on SSC who had sought permanent commission but were not granted that status, would be entitled to PC at par with male SSC officers, it ruled.

Recent Supreme Court order –

  • In February 2020, the SC had done away with all discrimination on the basis of years of service for grant of PC in 10 streams of combat support arms and services, bringing them on a par with male officers.
  • It had also removed the restriction of women officers only being allowed to serve in staff appointments, which is the most significant and far-reaching aspect of the judgment.
  • It means that women officers will be eligible to tenant all the command appointments, at par with male officers, which would open avenues for further promotions to higher ranks for them: if women officers had served only in staff, they would not have gone beyond the rank of Colonel.
  • It also means that in junior ranks and career courses, women officers would be attending the same training courses and tenanting critical appointments, which are necessary for higher promotions.

Environmental Peace Index 2020

The 12th edition of the Environment Performance Index (EPI 2020) – released by Yale University – ranked India at 168 out of the 180 countries analysed, behind all South Asian nations, except Afghanistan, with a score of 27.6.

About the index –

  • The index is based on 32 performance indicators across 11 categories—biodiversity & habitat, air quality, water and sanitation, etc—based on which countries are ranked on environmental health and ecosystem vitality.
  • This index becomes a vital tool for assessing countries’ progress with regards to Sustainable Development Goals, and would help policymakers formulate and implement environmental policies efficiently.
  • Denmark is ranked First, followed by Luxembourg and Switzerland. Liberia is ranked last at 180.

Performance of India –

  • India performed the worst regionally on all five key parameters for environmental health—sanitation, drinking water, air quality, heavy metals, and waste management.
  • It seriously needs to focus on fixing air & water quality and biodiversity. India, this reports findings should show, is quite far from achieving SDG targets on environment.
  • However, India can progress towards meeting its climate targets and goals if it follows better governance. The most crucial distinction between the worst and the best performers in the EPI has been good governance.
  • With public inputs in policymaking and a more targeted regulatory mechanism, India can perhaps better its showing–quite crucial at a time when the time to contain the deadly climate change effects might be running out fast.
  • The government must take take a hard look at the problem areas the report highlights, and, with the help of all stakeholders, act on safeguarding the environment and not only protect it from further degradation, but also try and reverse the damage wherever possible.

China’s Mars Mission

China has launched its first Mars Mission, the ‘Tianwen-1’ which is expected to land on the Red Planet’s surface in the first quarter of 2021. The success of the mission will make China the third country to achieve a Mars landing after the USSR and the United States.

About Tianwen-1 –

  • Named after the ancient Chinese poem ‘Questions to Heaven’, the Tianwen-1, an all-in-one orbiter, lander and rover will search the Martian surface for water, ice, investigate soil characteristics, and study the atmosphere, among competing other objectives.
  • The Chinese mission will be the first to place a ground-penetrating radar on the Martian surface, which will be able to study local geology, as well as rock, ice, and dirt distribution. Two candidate landing sites have been identified, one of them being Utopia Planitia.

Previous Mars’ Missions –

  • The USSR in 1971 became the first country to carry out a Mars landing– its ‘Mars 3’ lander being able to transmit data for 20 seconds from the Martian surface before failing. The country made its second and Mars landing two years later in 1973.
  • The second country to reach Mars’s surface, the US, holds the record for the most number of Mars landings. Since 1976, it has achieved 8 successful Mars landings, the latest being the ‘InSight’ in 2019 (launched in 2018).
  • India and the European Space Agency have been able to place their spacecraft in Mars’s orbit. Indias Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) or Mangalyaan’ was able to do so in September 2014, almost a year after its launch from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Andhra Pradesh.

US’s Mission on Mars –

  • NASA’s newest rover Perseverance — other rovers have landed on Mars earlier — will look for signs of habitable conditions on Mars and microbial life in its ancient past. Over its mission duration of one Martian year (687 Earth days), it will collect Martian rock and sediment samples for analysis on Earth.
  • The rover is equipped with specialised equipment to collect data, analyse weather conditions that can help plan for future human missions, and produce oxygen from the carbon-dioxide-rich atmosphere.
  • Perseverance is expected to touch down on Mars on February 18, 2021. NASA’s Curiosity rover has been exploring Mars since 2012. It remains active although its targeted mission life is over.

Why study Mars?

  • After the Moon, the most number of space missions in the Solar System have been to Mars. Despite being starkly different in many ways, the Red Planet has several Earth-like features– such as clouds, polar ice caps, canyons, volcanoes, and seasonal weather patterns.
  • For ages, scientists have wondered whether Mars can support life. In the past few years, Mars missions have been able to discover the possible presence of liquid water on the planet, either in the subsurface today or at some point in its past.
  • This has made space explorers more curious about whether the planet can sustain life. Newer NASA missions have since transitioned from their earlier strategy of “Follow the Water” to “Seek Signs of Life”.

Maintaining troops on LAC

Indian Army has moved three extra Army divisions to the Line of Actual Control in Ladakh to mirror the Chinese build-up. Let us see why is it so challenging to remain in the harsh conditions near LAC?

Why is it so challenging?

The eastern Ladakh region is a high-altitude desert, where temperatures can drop to -20°C. The thinner air at high altitudes also makes breathing tougher.

What is the cost?

Cost of keeping one soldier there, starting from buying of matches to his condiments, to his food, to his fuel for warming to his shelter to everything, for one turnaround year is easily at least to the tune of Rs 10 lakh.

Issues of transportation –

  • By road transport or through aerial trips. Land supply routes are open only during the summer, with high-altitude passes covered in snow from around November to March-April.
  • There are two road accesses to Ladakh from Srinagar – Rohtang Pass and Zoji La. But neither is open round the year. With Rohtang tunnel likely to open later in the year, it can potentially solve the problem, but there are two more passes on that route, Baralacha La and Thanglang La, both of which are at a higher altitude than Rohtang, and may be snowed in during the winter.

Specialised equipment –

  • For high altitudes, the Army procures specialised equipment to keep troops warm and ready for possible health issues.
  • Anything above 14,000 feet is considered super-high altitude. Of the four friction points in the standoff, Galwan Valley, Hot Springs and Gogra Post are higher than 14,000 feet.
  • Depsang Plains — where troops were not involved in a face-off but where India’s access to traditional patrol points has been blocked by China — is higher than 17,000 feet.
  • For such altitudes, the Army provisions for Special Clothing and Mountaineering Equipment (SCME). It includes ropes, special helmets, snow boots, jackets etc.Each soldier posted to Siachen is issued two sets, each costing over Rs 2 lakh.

Google Tax

Finance Secretary has ruled out any clarification in the form of ‘frequently asked questions’ or FAQs for the newly introduced ‘equalisation levy’ – also called the Google Tax – on foreign e-commerce players, arguing that the law was already ‘very clear’.

What is the issue?

  • India has now imposed 2 per cent digital tax on trade and services by non-resident e-commerce firms with a turnover of over Rs 2 crore.
  • Till last year, the tax was applicable only on digital advertising services, at 6 per cent. Such operators have to pay the tax at the end of each quarter.

Equalisation levy in India –

  • It was in 2016 that the equalisation levy of 6 per cent was first introduced (on payments exceeding Rs 1 lakh a year) on payment for online advertisements made to non-residents.
  • In the Finance Act 2020, the scope of equalisation levy was expanded to include e-commerce supply of goods or services. These transactions were to be taxed at 2 per cent if the business earned over ₹2 crore in a financial year.
  • This provision had found no mention in Budget 2020. Operators are also crying hoarse over the fact that the tax is effective from April 1, 2020, and the first quarterly payment fell due on July 7.

Concerns raised –

There are a few concerns that are being raised by companies and legal experts that the Centre could try to address.

  • The primary issue is that the income on which the equalisation levy is charged is exempt from Indian income tax. So credit for the tax is not available against any income arising in India. The ability to deduct this levy from the income in the country of residence will depend on the laws in that country, and may not be always possible.
  • Further, it has not been specified that the levy is on the income earned by the e-commerce operator, it is stated to be on the consideration received by the operator. Therefore, claiming a credit for the levy against the income in the country of residence many prove a problem with most bi-lateral tax treaties covering only tax on income.
  • The wider definition of E-commerce operator’ — as an entity that owns, operates or manages a digital or electronic facility or platform for online sales of goods or online provision of services, or both — can bring many other digital platforms inadvertently into the ambit of Indian tax law. The revenue can be more specific about the kinds of digital services that are now taxable.
  • The levy also appears to be covering transactions between two non-residents when one of them has used an Indian IP address to transact. There could be operational difficulties in implementing this.

Way forward –

  • A way out could be to wait it out for the OECD to finalise its rules regarding this issue. While this could lead to further delay, at least the solution will be part of a global consensus and may be more acceptable to the operators. A multilateral solution based on the work of the 137 members of the Inclusive Framework at the OECD is clearly the best way forward.
  • The OECD’s discussion paper, released towards the end of 2019, had discussed a three-tier approach to taxing digital players:
  1. Dividing the MNCs profits after accounting for expenditure between the countries it operates in, based on a formula linked to sales. The amount of tax will be agreed upon based on consensus.
  2. In regions where the e-commerce operator acts as a distributor, taxability will be based on existing rules of transfer pricing.
  3. Effective dispute resolution mechanisms should also be put in place to settle the litigations.

Daily MCQs

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