Daily Current Affairs for UPSC IAS | 5th January 2022

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1.  The bottom line in Blinken’s foray into Southeast Asia

UPSC Syllabus: Prelims: International Relations | Mains: GS Paper-II – International Relations
Sub Theme: America and the Indo – Pacific | Geo-politics of Indo-Pacific | Response of ASEAN | UPSC

America and the Indo – Pacific

  • The United States Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken visited Southeast Asia for the first time in December 2021. Highlighting the importance the US administration accords to the Indo – Pacific region.
  • He laid out – five core principles shaping the American strategy of a free and open Indo-Pacific.

Projecting itself as a reliable partner

  • This move seen as a projection that – America’s Indo-Pacific policy is not just aimed at deterring Chinese aggressiveness.
  • It was also about projecting U.S. as a reliable partner in meeting the challenges that the Indo-Pacific region is facing.

Geo-politics of Indo-Pacific

  • Emerging as a Geo-Political Theatre because of US – China rivalry.
  • Both China and the U.S. are trying to lure the Association of Southeast Asian Nation (ASEAN) countries to their side.

Areas of competition between the US and China –

  • China is increasing its influence through its economic might and its aggressiveness in the South China Sea.
  • Southeast Asia has been one of the top recipients of Chinese investments under its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
  • China has been heavily investing in port and railway connectivity in countries such as Indonesia and Vietnam.
  • US has been focussing on the region through – QUAD, AUKUS, Blue dot network, Freedom of Navigation operations in the disputed waters of the South China Sea.
  • Quad (Australia, India, Japan and the U.S.) have provided more than $48 billion in government-backed financing for infrastructure for the region.
  • Infrastructure coordination group launched by the Quad members is focussing on increasing investments on infrastructure development in the region.

Response of ASEAN nations 

  • South East Asian nations have been reluctant in taking sides between US and China.
  • These nations do not have a uniform approach when it comes to dealing with the U.S. and China.
  • Such an approach is challenging often touted ASEAN centrality in the Indo-Pacific.

 

2.  Sri Lanka Cabinet clears oil tank deal

UPSC Syllabus: Prelims: International Relations | Mains: GS Paper-II – International Relations
Sub Theme: Trincomalee Oil Tank Deal | UPSC

Trincomalee Oil Tank Deal

  • Sri Lankan cabinet has given approval to jointly develop 61 tanks out of the 99 tanks in the Trincomalee oil tank farm.
  • It will allocate 24 oil tanks for the business activities of the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC) and to allocate 14 tanks of the Lower Oil Tank Complex already in use by the Lanka Indian Oil Corporation (IOC) for the company’s business activities.
  • The CPC and the Lanka IOC will have 51% and 49% stake on the jointly developed 61 tanks respectively.

About the Project

  • It was built by the British in the 1930s to supply fuel to Royal Navy ships during the Second World War.
  • In 2003, Sri Lanka leased out the oil tank farm to India, for the upgradation and commissioning of 99 tanks in it for 35 years by signing an agreement.
  • It is a Natural harbour.
  • Location is strategically important for India.
  • India has talked about developing Trincomalee is a regional petroleum Hub.
  • The Presence of Indian Oil subsidiary has seen opposition in Sri Lanka.
  • The opposition is led by the Sinhala nationalists.

 

3.  The hint of a ‘one nation one NGO’ regime 

UPSC Syllabus: Prelims: Governance | Mains: GS Paper-II – Governance
Sub Theme: Extending Registration of foreign firms under FCRA | UPSC

Context: Recently, the ministry of home affairs extended the validity of Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA) registration of non-government organisations (NGOs) by three months till March 31, 2022 (whose FCRA registration are expiring between September 29, 2020 and March 31, 2022).

FCRA amendment 2020

The amendment was made to strengthen the compliance mechanism, enhance transparency and accountability in the receipt and utilisation of foreign contribution, and, facilitate genuine NGOs, who are working for welfare of the society. Important provisions of the amendment are as follows-

  • Sub-granting is prohibited: It Forbids a recipient (NGO) of foreign contribution from transferring the same to any other NGO.
  • Cap on administrative expenses: Reduces the limit of usage of foreign contribution for administrative expenses from 50% to 20%.
  • State Bank of India Accounts Required: Previously, NGOs receiving foreign funding under FCRA needed to create a bank account at any government-approved bank. Under the amended FCRA, all NGOs who wish to receive foreign funding must create and solely use a new account with the State Bank of India at New Delhi. This branch of the SBI at New Delhi is required to report the contribution and its intended use to the central government.
  • Aadhar for registration: Any NGO seeking FCRA registration should submit Aadhar number of all its office bearers.
  • Restriction in utilisation of foreign contribution: The government may restrict usage foreign contribution if it believes that such entity has contravened provisions of the Act.
  • NGOs Can Forfeit FCRA Status: previously, there was no way for NGOs in India to voluntarily forfeit their FCRA registration. Under the amended FCRA, there is now a means to do so.

Concerns with the Amendment

  • The amendment has restricted the ability to sub-grant and choked many of the niche organisations working in very remote areas which had no direct access to international funding but were doing it through larger non-governmental organisations.
  • Limit of 20% on administrative costs of NGO severely impact some NGOs which undertake research activities where overhead costs (salaries etc.) are more.
  • Since all the NGOs in India (who seek foreign funding) are required to open a bank account at SBI Delhi branch, the administrative delays in approval by the bank and Ministry are causing many troubles for them. It restricted activities of NGOs including providing COVID-19 relief and paying urgent salaries of staff, and also affected its charitable and educational activities.
  • Blanket requirement to open an account at one specific SBI branch is manifestly arbitrary and serves no rational purpose, violating the right to equality.

Though there are some genuine reasons to regulate the funding of NGOs

  • Some NGOs were reported to work against the national interests of the country. An Intelligence Bureau  (IB)  report,  submitted  to  the  PMO  and  National  Security Adviser in 2019,  alleged  that  several  foreign-funded  NGOs  were  stalling  India’s economic  growth. The  report  accused  Greenpeace  of  attempting  to  destabilise  India’s  energy  mix  in collusion  with  a  US-based  anti-coal  lobbying  group.
  • NGOs lack inner democracy and siphon off to pay the owners of NGOs very high salaries. Thus, reducing limit on administrative expenses is necessary.
  • Some NGOs were also charged with allegations of Money laundering and terror financing.

However, it is wrong to colour all the NGOs receiving foreign contributions as entities indulging in illicit activities. Blanket ban on transfer of foreign funds from one NGO to other entity would severely hurt the functioning of many small NGOs working in the grassroot level. Since NGOs fill the gap left by the state and serve the people whom the state is unable to reach, it is necessary to draw a balance between object sought to be strengthening transparency in the working of NGOs and rights of the voluntary organisations to have access to the foreign funds.

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