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5 THINGS FIRST

RBI’s 3-day monetary policy meet starts today; SC to hear plea against freebies promised by political parties before polls; West Bengal cabinet reshuffle; Data release – PMI Services for July; CWG 2022- Hockey – India Vs Canada

1. ‘The Doctor’ of Al Qaeda killed in US drone strike
“This terrorist leader is no more” — with those words, US President Joe Biden announced the termination of Al Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri, who was killed in a “precision” drone strike on Sunday and added that “now, justice has been delivered” to the man widely believed to be the chief architect of the 9/11 attacks.

How justice was delivered

  • According to a Reuters report, quoting a US intelligence official, Zawahiri was killed while standing on the balcony of his house — a routine followed by him and carefully observed by US intelligence agencies — in Kabul with a strike of Hellfire missiles.
  • The US government, which had been aware of Zawahiri’s support base in Afghanistan, earlier this year identified his family — wife, daughter and her kids — living in a safe house in the Afghan capital. Later, Zawahiri too was spotted regularly there, standing on the balcony.
  • Having built “a pattern of life” and corroborating through multiple sources about his presence, along with studying the blueprints of the house, the officials briefed Biden on July 1 about a proposed military strike to take out Zawahiri, with the US President finally authorising a drone strike on July 25, which was finally carried out at 6:18 am local time on July 31.

Who was Zawahiri

  • Egypt-born surgeon, Zawahiri, who carried a reward of $25 million on his head — the same as that on Osama bin Laden — was a friend, personal physician and the second-in command to bin Laden at Al Qaeda, who later took over the chief’s mantle after bin Laden was killed by a team of US Navy SEALS in 2011 in Pakistan.
  • Fluent in Arabic and French, Zawahiri, who also went by the moniker ‘The Teacher’ is described by Hamid Mir — the ‘official’ biographer of bin Laden, who personally selected the Pakistani journalist — as the one with the organisational and mental skills to run the terrorist organisation, with bin Laden being just a front man. The two had first met in 1985 in Peshawar, when they were recruiting and training a resistance force against the Soviets occupying Afghanistan.

How India ‘contributed’

  • Ironically, it was the hijab protests in India which confirmed that Zawahiri — who had tried to establish an Al Qaeda network in Kashmir, drawing parallels with the situation in Palestine — was very much alive amidst speculation that he had passed away due to natural causes. In a video released in April, he had praised a Muslim woman in Karnataka for defying the ban on wearing hijab in colleges — and it was in April that US intelligence officials started briefing the Biden administration about Zawahiri’s presence in Kabul.
2. A court missive and ED raids
2. A court missive and ED raids
A week after it questioned Congress chief Sonia Gandhi, the Enforcement Directorate (ED) on Tuesday raided the head office of the party-owned National Herald newspaper in central Delhi and 11 other locations as part of an ongoing money laundering investigation.

Pleas in SC

  • The searches were conducted on a day when the Supreme Court sought response from the Union Government and the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) in 10 days on a batch of petitions challenging the extension of tenure of the ED chief and the amended law allowing such extensions up to five years.
  • As many as eight petitions were filed in the top court. The petitioners include Congress leaders Randeep Singh Surjewala and Jaya Thakur, TMC leader Saket Gokhale and others.
  • Senior advocate A M Singhvi, appearing for Surjewala, referred to the apex court judgements and said the fixed tenures are the “hallmark of independence” and the fact that an incumbent may get an extension will “demolish” the independence of the office. More details here

A war of words

  • The searches were carried out under the criminal sections of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) to “gather additional evidence with regard to the trail of funds and they are against those entities who were involved in the National Herald-linked transactions”, officials said.
  • Congress leader Jairam Ramesh has alleged that the ED searches related to the National Herald case were the BJP’s “vendetta politics”.
  • BJP spokesperson Shehzad Poonawala took a swipe at opposition parties for playing the “victimhood card”, saying the Indian National Congress (INC) is all “I Need Corruption” while the TMC is “Too Much Corruption”.
3. What does CAA have to do with Covid vaccines?
3. What does CAA have to do with Covid vaccines?
Union home minister Amit Shah said on Tuesday that rules regarding the implementation of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act or CAA will be framed after the Covid precaution dose vaccination exercise is over. Shah was responding to a query from West Bengal BJP leader Suvendu Adhikari.

The delay

  • Passed by Parliament in December 2019, the controversial Act is yet to be rolled out due to the absence of rules. The government has cited the outbreak of pandemic for not framing them so far.
  • Adhikari told reporters that the implementation of CAA, slammed by critics for its alleged anti-Muslim bias, is very critical for West Bengal where a large number of people can benefit from its provisions.

The controversy

  • There is a view that the government is treading cautiously on the matter after the Act drew protests in different parts of the country. It seeks to grant citizenship to persecuted minorities of neighbouring countries, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan, who had come to India by December 31, 2014.
  • In the Northeast, several civil society organisations and tribal outfits oppose this law fearing this would create a demographic imbalance in the region. They have cited the example of Tripura where indigenous population has been reduced to a minority due to the influx of Bangladeshi Hindu migrants.
4. Is Taiwan preparing for the worst?
4. Is Taiwan preparing for the worst?
US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi arrived in Taiwan aboard a US military aircraft late on Tuesday on a visit that could significantly escalate tensions with Beijing, which claims the self-ruled island as its own territory. The US said it would not be intimidated by what it called Chinese ‘sabre-rattling’.

Chinese PLA drills

  • Earlier on Tuesday, several Chinese military aircraft and warships “squeezed” the median line dividing the Taiwan Strait, an unusual move described as “very provocative” by a source quoted by Reuters.
  • Neither side’s aircraft normally cross the median line. Taiwan’s Defence Ministry said it has a full grasp of military activities near Taiwan and will appropriately dispatch forces in reaction to “enemy threats”.

Air-raid shelters

  • Meanwhile, Taiwan is preparing its air-raid shelters amid repeated incursions by Chinese PLA Air Force planes. There are fears that Beijing could use force against the island taking a cue from the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
  • The preparations include designating shelters where people can take cover if Chinese missiles start flying in, not in purpose-built bunkers but in underground spaces like basement car parks, the subway system and subterranean shopping centres.
  • The capital of Taipei has more than 4,600 such shelters that can accommodate some 12 million people, more than four times its population.
6. Is India facing a menace of illegal Chinese aliens?
6. Is India facing a menace of illegal Chinese aliens?
  • Quit India: Minister of State for Home Nityanand Rai informed the Lok Sabha on Tuesday that the government had issued a Leave India Notice to 81 Chinese nationals in the three year period from 2019-2021for “intentional or unjustifiable” overstay in the country. In addition, Rai informed that 117 Chinese nationals were deported from India while another 726 Chinese nationals were placed in an “adverse list” for violating visa conditions and other illegal acts.
  • Growing menace? Last week, the Gautam Buddh Nagar Police in Uttar Pradesh arrested five Chinese nationals who were staying for over two years, since 2020, with expired visas in a rented accommodation in Greater Noida. These arrests followed on the back of the arrest of more than 25 Chinese nationals over the last two months, who were caught staying illegally in Noida and Greater Noida — including one who was running an illegal restro-bar in Greater Noida and is also a suspect in a hawala racket.
  • All not bad: However, Rai clarified that in some cases, foreigners overstayed “beyond visa period owing to ignorance or under compelling circumstances like medical emergency or other personal reasons” and added that “in genuine cases, where overstay is unintentional or because of ignorance or under compelling circumstances, the period of overstay is regularised after charging the penalty fees and visa is extended if required.”
7. How to protect yourself from monkeypox
7. How to protect yourself from monkeypox
  • More cases of monkeypox have been reported — third in Delhi and fifth in Kerala. One person has died of monkeypox in Kerala. With three cases in the city, the Arvind Kejriwal government has asked three hospitals to set up isolation wards — five each for confirmed patients and suspected cases.
  • Not a new disease: Union Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya allayed concerns in Parliament saying that monkeypox is not a new disease, saying, “We are implementing best of the learnings that were gained due to coronavirus…Awareness campaigns are being run by the government.”
  • Combat plan: The Centre has formed a national task force for the management of monkeypox. It monitors the development of diagnostics and vaccines. Fifteen lab networks have been optimised to undertake diagnostic testing for monkeypox. The ICMR has isolated the monkeypox virus for vaccine development.
  • What is monkeypox: It is a zoonotic disease caused by a virus of the same family of virus that causes smallpox. It remained endemic in West and Central Africa. Now, it has been reported from 75 countries this year, with the WHO counting 22,000 cases.
  • How to identify: Usually a self-limiting disease, monkeypox typically manifests in fever, rashes and swollen lymph nodes lasting for 15-30 days.

To keep monkeypox away…

  • Avoid close, skin-to-skin contact with monkeypox patients or their close contacts
  • Don’t touch rashes or scabs of a monkeypox patient
  • Don’t kiss, hug, cuddle or have sex with someone with monkeypox
  • Don’t touch objects and materials used by a monkeypox patient
  • Don’t share eating utensils or cups with a monkeypox patient
  • Don’t handle or touch the bedding, towels, or clothing of a person with monkeypox
  • Sanitise your hands with soap or alcohol-based sanitizer regularly
  • Some animals, especially rodents and primates, can spread monkeypox; avoid them when sick
8. Why is PM Modi’s brother protesting in Delhi?
8. Why is PM Modi’s brother protesting in Delhi?
  • Protest: Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s brother Prahlad Modi staged a protest at Delhi’s Jantar Mantar, holding banners and raising slogans, to press for various demands of the fair shop traders.
  • Prahlad Modi is the vice president of All India Fair Price Shop Dealers’ Federation (AIFPSDF) that has been agitating for a hike in profit-margins in running the shops instrumental in implementing the national food security programme.
  • Modi to Modi: Prahlad Modi said, “A delegation of the federation will submit a memorandum to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, listing our long-standing demands for the sake of our survival. With the current situation of hike in the cost of living and overhead expenditures for running shops, a raise of mere 20 paise per kg in our margin is a cruel joke. We request the Union government to grant us relief and end our financial miseries.”
  • The federation will hold a national executive meeting on Wednesday to decide their next course of action, he said. Another leader of the group said the protesters plan to meet Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla today.
  • Bengal in demand: The federation seeks compensation for loss on rice, wheat and sugar, and also for edible oil and pulses. It has demanded that the West Bengal ration model of free distribution be implemented across the country. It wants all due margins for all the states, including Jammu and Kashmir, be reimbursed immediately.
  • More demands: They demanded that “edible oil, pulses and LPG gas cylinders be supplied through fair price shops. Rural areas’ fair price shop dealers should be allowed to function as direct procurement agents for rice and wheat”.
  • Politics: TMC MP Sougata Roy backed their demands in Parliament. The protesters plan to continue their protests until their demands are met.
9. Have catastrophes been milder in 2022?
9. Have catastrophes been milder in 2022?
  • Loss: A Switzerland-based group, Swiss Re Institute, has reported that the world has suffered $75 billion in economic losses due to catastrophes in the first half of 2022. Of these, losses of $38 billion were covered by insurance.
  • Man, lesser evil: Natural catastrophes caused economic losses of $72 billion while man-made disasters caused a loss of $3 billion, according to Zurich-headquartered Swiss Re Institute, which acts as an insurer for insurers.
  • Milder: The total catastrophe-caused global economic losses in the first half of 2022 were lower compared to the same period in 2021, and also the average of the past ten years. The first six months of 2021 saw an economic loss of $95 billion while the average economic loss in the past 10 years stood at $80 billion.
  • Insurance business: Data show that more people are opting for insurance against natural disasters. Global estimated insured losses from natural catastrophes in the first half of 2022 stood at $35 billion — 22% above average of the past ten years ($29 billion).
  • Nature’s fury: The losses are attributed to a series of winter storms in Europe, unprecedented flooding in Australia and South Africa, and a high number of thunderstorms in the US and Europe. The record-high temperatures in many parts of Europe may lead to further losses caused by droughts and wildfires.
  • Climate change? A World Meteorological Organization’s study said climate-related disasters over 1970-2019 killed 115 people and caused $202 million in losses daily. The European Environment Agency said climate-related disasters have caused an economic loss of up to $530 billion and killed up to 1.45 lakh people in 40 years.
    Catatrophe losses
Answer to NEWS IN CLUES
Answer to NEWS IN CLUES

Table tennis. The Indian men’s team beat Singapore 3-1 to retain their gold medal at the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham. Also known as Ping Pong, it gave rise to Ping Pong Diplomacy in the 1970s between the US and China to ease Cold War tensions through exhibition matches between Chinese and American players. It has been an Olympic sport since 1988.

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Written by: Rakesh Rai, Tejeesh Nippun Singh, Jayanta Kalita, Prabhash K Dutta
Research: Rajesh Sharma



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