Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting

The Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) concluded in London, United Kingdom on April 20, 2018.

The two-day summit, formally inaugurated by Queen Elizabeth II, saw in attendance 53 heads of Government including Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The event was held in London and Windsor.

This is the first time in a decade that an Indian Prime Minister is attending the event, which is held every two years, having skipped the Group summits in Perth, Colombo and Malta since 2009. This is also first CHOGM after UK decided to pull out of EU and is important for UK.

The theme of this year’s summit was ‘Towards a Common Future’.  The main aim of the meeting was to build on the strengths of the Commonwealth nations, address shared global challenges including environmental ones and agree on actions on how to create a better future for all.

The ongoing summit is the 25th meeting of the heads of government of the Commonwealth of Nations. The summit was originally supposed to be hosted by Vanuatu at the end of 2017. However, it was moved to the United Kingdom as Vanuatu was no longer able to host the event due to the damage done by Cyclone Pam to the island nation’s infrastructure.

The 2018 edition is widely regarded to be the Queen’s last Heads of Government meeting. During the summit, the Queen relayed her wish that her son, Prince Charles, should carry on her work as leader of the Commonwealth.

Goals:

  1. Prosperity: Boosting intra-Commonwealth trade and investment.
  2. Security: Increasing cooperation across security challenges including global terrorism, organised crime and cyber attacks.
  3. Fairness: Promoting democracy, fundamental freedoms and good governance across the Commonwealth.
  4. Sustainability: Building the resilience of small and vulnerable states to deal with the effects of climate change and other global crises.

Outcomes:

CHOGM in London have adopted Commonwealth Cyber Declaration to take action on cybersecurity by 2020. The UK government has committed to provide up to £15m in funding to help strengthen cyber security in Commonwealth countries. The funding is also aimed at assisting efforts to tackle criminal groups and hostile state actors who pose a global threat to security, including in the UK. This is to be the world’s largest and most geographically diverse inter-governmental commitment on cyber security cooperation.

The Commonwealth Cyber Declaration sets out, for the first time, a common vision for ensuring the internet remains free and open across the Commonwealth.

The Blue Charter on Ocean Governance has been adopted by the Commonwealth Heads of Government as they wrapped up their summit. The Blue Charter maps out efforts to protect oceans and marine environments throughout the Commonwealth, from threats such as climate change, pollution and over fishing.

Commonwealth nations also expressed their strong support for the multilateral trading system and adopted a six-point connectivity agenda to boost trade and investment links.

Further Reading:

Commonwealth

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Tiangong-1Crashes Over South Pacific

 

China’s prototype space station, whose name translates as “Heavenly Palace 1,” crashed Earth’s atmosphere, April 1, breaking apart and burning up in the skies over the southern Pacific Ocean on April 2, according to the U.S. Strategic Command’s Joint Force Space Component Command (JFSCC).

Tiangong-1 was about 34 feet long by 11 feet wide (10.4 by 3.4 meters), and it weighed more than 9 tons (8 metric tons). The space lab consisted of two main parts: an “experimental module” that housed visiting astronauts and a “resource module” that accommodated Tiangong-1’s solar-energy and propulsion systems.

The craft launched without anyone aboard on Sept. 29, 2011, to an orbit about 217 miles (350 kilometres) above Earth. That’s slightly lower than the orbit of the much larger International Space Station, whose average altitude is 250 miles (400 km). Tiangong-1’s main mission was to help China master the technologies required to assemble and operate a bonafide space station in Earth orbit.

On Nov. 2, 2011, the robotic Shenzhou-8 spacecraft visited Tiangong-1, executing China’s first-ever orbital docking. Another big milestone came in June 2012, when a crew of three space flyers linked their Shenzhou-9 vehicle to the heavenly palace and came aboard for a spell.

Three more “taikonauts,” or Chinese astronauts, visited in June 2013, travelling on the Shenzhou-10 spacecraft. Each of these crewed missions lasted about two weeks.

Tiangong-1’s design lifetime was just two years, and the space lab’s work was mostly done after Shenzhou-10 departed. The empty space lab continued to do some Earth-observation work, however, and researchers and engineers kept in touch with it until March 2016, when data transmission between Tiangong-1 and its handlers stopped, for reasons that China never explicitly specified. At that point, an uncontrolled atmospheric re-entry was apparently inevitable.

Tiangong-1’s successor, Tiangong-2, launched to Earth orbit in September 2016 and hosted three visiting astronauts a month later. And a robotic vessel called Tianzhou-1 rendezvoused with Tiangong-2 a few months later, performing several automated docking and refuelling operations from April 2017 to September 2017.

Tiangong-1 is not the biggest spacecraft ever to fall from the sky. That distinction goes to the 140-ton (127 metric tons) Soviet/Russian space station Mir, which was guided to a controlled destruction over the Pacific Ocean in March 2001.

The largest craft ever to come down at least partially uncontrolled is NASA’s 100-ton (91 metric tons) space shuttle Columbia, which broke apart as it was returning to Earth on Feb. 1, 2003, killing all seven astronauts aboard.

Tiangong-1’s re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere was not controlled, but hundreds of similar spacecraft re-entries have been. Of these controlled descents, nearly 300 crash-landing spacecraft have been intentionally guided to Point Nemo since 1971, Popular Science reported. The buried debris includes everything from spent fuel tanks to spy satellites to entire defunct space stations. Nearly 200 of the cemetery’s residents are Russian in origin, including the area’s biggest celebrity: the 140-ton (127 metric tons) MIR space station, which was guided to Point Nemo in a controlled atmospheric re-entry in 2001. The International Space Station (ISS) is also scheduled to crash into Point Nemo once its mission is complete, sometime after 2024.

The red-hot remains of Tiangong-1 didn’t land precisely in the spacecraft cemetery following their uncontrolled deorbit last night, but they did come somewhat close by pure chance. The space station reportedly landed in the south Pacific Ocean near American Samoa, several thousand miles northwest of Point Nemo.

Officially called an “oceanic pole of inaccessibility,” this watery graveyard for titanium fuel tanks and other high-tech space debris is better known to space junkies as Point Nemo, in honour of Jules Verne’s fictional submarine captain. Point Nemo is further from land than any other dot on the globe: 2,688 kilometres (about 1,450 miles) from the Pitcairn Islands to the north, one of the Easter Islands to the northwest, and Maher Island — part of Antarctica — to the South.

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Diabetes has five types, say scientists

Scientists unveiled a revised classification for diabetes mellitus, one they said could lead to better treatments and help doctors more accurately predict life-threatening complications from the disease.

There are five distinct types of diabetes that can occur in adulthood, rather than the two currently recognised, they reported in The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology

The findings are consistent with the growing trend toward “precision medicine”, which takes into account differences between individuals in managing the disease. In the same way that a patient requiring a transfusion must receive the right blood type, diabetes sub-types need different treatments, the study suggested.

Similarly, scientists have also identified distinct kinds of the microbiome — the bacterial ecosystem in our digestive tract — that can react differently to the same medication, rendering it more or less effective.

People with diabetes mellitus have excessively high blood glucose, or blood sugar, which comes from food.

Some 420 million people around the world today suffer from diabetes, with the number expected to rise to 629 million by 2045, according to the International Diabetes Federation.

Currently, the disease is divided into two sub-types.

With type-1 — generally diagnosed in childhood and accounting for about 10% of cases — the body simply doesn’t make insulin, a hormone that helps regulate blood sugar levels. It is also called Insulin Dependent Diabetes Mellitus(IDDM) as the only treatment is insulin injection.

For type-2, the body makes some insulin but not enough, which means glucose stays in the blood. This is also known as Non-Insulin Dependent Diabetes Mellitus(NIDDM).

This form of the disease correlates highly with obesity and can, over time, lead to blindness, kidney damage, and heart disease or stroke.

It has long been known that type-2 diabetes is highly variable, but classification has remained unchanged for decades. For the study, researchers monitored 13,270 newly diagnosed diabetes patients ranging in age from 18 to 97.

By isolating measurements of insulin resistance, insulin secretion, blood sugar levels, age, and the onset of illness, they distinguished five distinct clusters of the disease — three serious and two milder forms.

This is not changing the diagnosis or the terminology for the diagnosis, It’s just providing a way to classify the diagnosis of type 1 and type 2.

The clusters were:

• Cluster 1: Called “severe autoimmune diabetes,” this form is similar to type 1 diabetes. People in this cluster were relatively young when they were diagnosed, and they were not overweight. They had an immune system (autoimmune) disease that prevented them from producing insulin.
• Cluster 2: Called “severe insulin-deficient diabetes,” this form was similar to cluster 1 — people were relatively young and not overweight and were also not producing much insulin. But, crucially, their immune system was not the cause because they didn’t have “autoantibodies” that indicate type 1. Researchers aren’t sure why this happens, but people in this group may have a deficiency in the cells that produce insulin.
• Cluster 3: Called “severe insulin-resistant diabetes,” this form occurred in people who were overweight and had high insulin resistance, meaning their bodies were making insulin, but their cells were not responding to it.
• Cluster 4: Called “mild obesity-related diabetes,” this form occurred in people who had a milder form of the disease, without as many metabolic problems as those in cluster 3, and they tended to be obese.
• Cluster 5: Called “mild age-related diabetes,” this form was similar to cluster 4, but the people were older at their age of diagnosis. This was the most common form of diabetes, affecting about 40 percent of people in the study.

Clusters 2 and 3 are both severe forms of diabetes that were “masked within type 2 diabetes” till now. People in cluster 3 had the highest risk of kidney disease, a complication of diabetes, while people in cluster 2 had the highest risk of retinopathy.

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India is one of the most corrupt in Asia Pacific

The Corruption Perception Index 2017 also singled out India as one of the ‘worst offenders’ in the Asia-Pacific region.

India’s ranking in the annual corruption index, released by Berlin-based non-government organisation Transparency International (TI), slid to 81 among a group of 180 countries. The Corruption Perception Index 2017 also singled out India as one of the “worst offenders” in the Asia-Pacific region.

In 2016, India was in the 79th place among 176 countries. India’s ranking in the index had plummeted in 2013 and 2014 in the wake of the spectrum and coal scams. The ranking has improved since then, but seems to be showing signs of weakening.

The index, which measures perception of corruption in the public sector, uses a scale of 0 to 100, where 0 is highly corrupt and 100 is very clean. India’s score remained intact at 40 points in both 2016 and 2017.

New Zealand and Singapore scored the highest scores with 89 and 84 out of 100, respectively. Somalia was found to be the most corrupt country in the world. A majority of the world’s countries scored below 50 on the index with the global average score coming at around 43. India’s score of 40 in 2017 puts it below the global average.

In some countries across the Asia-Pacific region, journalists, activists, opposition leaders and even staff of law enforcement or watchdog agencies are threatened, and in worst cases, even murdered, the report stated. “Philippines, India and the Maldives are among the worst regional offenders in this respect. These countries score high for corruption and have fewer press freedoms and higher numbers of journalist deaths.

The 2017 index revealed that despite attempts to combat corruption, most countries were moving too slowly with their effort. In the past six years, many countries have made little to no progress.

Further Reading:

Corruption Perception Index

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Hepatitis – A to E

Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver commonly caused by viral infections. but other infections, toxic substances (e.g. alcohol, certain drugs), and autoimmune diseases can also cause hepatitis. Hepatitis can be self-limiting or can progress to fibrosis (scarring), cirrhosis or liver cancer.

There are 5 main hepatitis viruses, referred to as types A, B, C, D and E. Types B and C especially lead to chronic disease in a majority of affected people and, together, are the most common cause of liver cirrhosis and cancer.

Hepatitis A and E are typically caused by ingestion of food or water contaminated by the virus from faecal matter. Hepatitis B, C and D usually occur as a result of parenteral contact (contact with infected body fluids). Common modes of transmission for these viruses include receipt of contaminated blood or blood products, invasive medical procedures using contaminated equipment and for hepatitis B transmission from mother to baby at birth, from family member to child, and also by sexual contact.

Acute infections may be asymptomatic or associated with Jaundice, Dark urine, Fatigue, Nausea and abdominal pain.

Hepatitis A Virus Infections are in many cases mild, with most people making a full recovery and remaining immune from further HAV infections. Hepatitis B Virus spreads mainly through parenteral route and as a Sexually Transmitted Disease(STD). Safe and effective vaccines are available to prevent HBV.

There is no vaccine for Hepatitis C Virus and it mainly spreads through blood and blood products. It can also be an STD, though rarely.

Hepatitis D virus infects only those people who are already affected by HBV. The dual infection of HDV and HBV can result in a more serious disease and worse outcome. Hepatitis B vaccines provide protection from HDV infection.

HEV is a common cause of hepatitis outbreaks in developing parts of the world and is increasingly recognized as an important cause of disease in developed countries. Safe and effective vaccines to prevent HEV infection have been developed but are not widely available.

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Dalveer Bhandari Reelected to ICJ

India scored a major diplomatic victory on Monday as its nominee to the International Court of Justice (ICJ), Dalveer Bhandari, was re-elected after the United Kingdom withdrew its candidate, Christopher Greenwood.

The U.K. chose to withdraw after it became clear that it would not win the contest in the General Assembly (GA) and it did not have adequate support in the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) for its attempts to derail the voting process itself.

This is the first time in the 70-year history of the United Nations that the U.K. will not be on the ICJ; and this is the first time that one of the five permanent members of the UNSC lost out to an ordinary member in a race. This is also the first time that one sitting member of the ICJ lost to another sitting member.
The winning candidate required a majority in both the GA and the UNSC, but 11 rounds of voting until last week ended, with India winning in the GA and the U.K. winning in the UNSC. With the U.K. announcing its exit from the race in the 12th round, Justice Bhandari received 183 of the 193 votes in the GA and secured all the 15 votes in the UNSC after separate and simultaneous elections were held at the U.N. headquarters in New York.

The U.K. had nine of the 15 UNSC votes in the previous rounds, leading to a stalemate though India had an overwhelming majority in the GA. It initially wanted to suspend the voting process and move to a conference mechanism that has never been used in the history of the U.N. to break the stalemate. But this move needed the approval of the UNSC in an open voting while voting for the ICJ is through a secret ballot as some members who supported UK candidate was not in favour of suspension of election process.

India’s diplomatic outreach

Meanwhile, India’s diplomatic outreach led by was gathering more support for India in the GA. It had become clear that India was moving towards getting two-thirds of the votes, 128 of them, in the GA. No judge could have occupied the position on the ICJ after two-thirds of the member countries voted against him.
India made it clear that it had no intention to back off, as its support among the member states was clear and demonstrated. By then, some members of UNSC had assured India that they would not support the British proposal to suspend voting and institute an unprecedented conference mechanism.
One hour before the voting was to begin, UK wrote identical letters to the presidents of the UNGA and UNSC that Mr. Greenwood would withdraw from the contest. As per rules, voting proceeded simultaneously, with only Justice Bhandari’s name on the ballot.
Congratulating Justice Bhandari, the U.K. said it would continue to cooperate closely with India at the U.N. and globally.

Refer:

International Organisations

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Secrets of the Succulents

Drought-resistant plants such as cacti and succulents, make use of an enhanced form of photosynthesis to minimise water loss, scientists say.

The research, published in journal The Plant Cell, could be used to help produce new crops that can thrive in previously inhospitable, hot and dry regions across the world.

Photosynthesis involves taking carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to convert into sugars using sunlight.

Scientists at the University of Liverpool in the U.K. found that these drought-resistant plants, such as cacti, agaves and succulents, make use of an enhanced form of photosynthesis known as crassulacean acid metabolism (CAM).

Unlike other plants, CAM plants are able to take up CO2 during the cooler night, which reduces water loss, and store captured CO2 as malic acid inside the cell, allowing its use for photosynthesis without water loss during the next day.

CAM photosynthesis is regulated by the plant’s internal circadian clock, which allows plants to differentiate and pre-empt day and night and adjust their metabolism accordingly.

Little is known

However, relatively little is known about the exact molecular processes that underpin the optimal timing of CO2 being stored and released in this unique way.

Researchers looked at an enzyme called PPCK that is involved in controlling the conversion of CO2 to its overnight stored form.

They wanted to know if PPCK is a necessary component for engineering CAM photosynthesis and tested this by switching the PPCK gene off in the succulent CAM plant Kalanchoe fedtschenkoi. They found that, for CAM to work properly, the cells must switch on PPCK each night driven by an internal circadian clock.

The Hindu

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Demonetisation and After

Quarterly numbers suggest Many sectors staged a comeback from demonetisation, facing only a minor hurdle in GST. Ever since the CSO released its quick GDP estimates for the April-June 2017 quarter, pegging growth at 5.7%, there has been a heated debate on whether demonetisation and the rocky transition to GST brought Indian businesses to a grinding halt.

Over 1015 companies have filed their results for the last six quarters beginning April-June 2016 and ending July-September 2017. Studying their sales growth patterns threw up these findings.

Consumption revives

The note ban did deliver a body blow to consumer confidence, data from listed firms show. Almost every consumer-facing sector saw a sharp dip in sales for the October-December 2016 quarter — the months when the note ban was in force. But most sectors charted a quick recovery from that blow. Some have even seen growth rates return to levels better than a year earlier.

Aggregate sales growth for Fast Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG) companies slumped from 6.5% in July-September 2016 to 2.9% in the demonetisation quarter. Automobile sales shifted into first gear from 13.2% growth in July-September 2016 to 4.2% in the October-December quarter. Sales for retailers fell off a precipice from a 31% growth to a measly 1%. Consumer durable sales, already sluggish before demonetisation grew at just 3.5% in the note ban quarter.

But all these sectors staged an unexpectedly quick bounce-back from the note ban. FMCGs saw growth pick up to 9.6% in the January-March 2017 quarter itself. Consumer durables saw sales growth zooming to 13% in the quarter immediately following demonetisation, further accelerating to 20% and 16% in the subsequent quarters. Even paints, a discretionary purchase item, saw a doubling of growth in January-March 2017 from the note ban trough. The GST roll-out didn’t pose as much of a challenge for the listed firms. Consumer goods such as FMCG, apparel and automobiles saw a blip in April-June 2017, but were back on the fast track by July-September 2017. In fact, listed firms in FMCGs, paints, durables, apparel and automobiles have all demonstrated their strongest growth in the last two years in the latest July-September quarter.

Services lag goods

Consumer services, however, had a somewhat different story to tell. Revenue growth for telecom, entertainment, hospitality, and media took a sharp knock in the quarter in which demonetisation occurred.

Telecom services went from 7.1% growth in July-September 2016 to a 1.7% contraction in October-December 2016. Entertainment (multiplexes, cable TV providers) saw a halving of growth from 14% to 7% and media firms’ (newspapers, broadcasters, television channels) slowed sharply from 9.2% to 1.2%.

Growth in these sectors has continued to be anaemic through 2017, with the GST transition probably playing a role in subdued sales. Banks alone have seen a marginal uptick in revenue growth post demonetisation, understandable given their deposit windfall.

Why have consumer goods taken less of a hit from GST than consumer services? One explanation could lie in the GST tax structure. GST has reduced the indirect tax burden on most consumer goods, fitting them into lower rate slabs than before.

But it has raised effective taxes on services. Consumer goods firms have therefore been able to use the savings from GST to woo consumers back with discounts and lower selling prices. But service providers, who are already victims of intense competition (think mobile phones and hotel tariffs) in their sectors, haven’t had this luxury. The higher tax incidence in their case has probably dented demand.

In reading the above numbers, it is important to remember that growth rates cited here are a blend of volume and price growth. Commentary from most consumer goods firms suggest an improvement in volume growth in the latest quarter. In the case of services such as telecom or hotels, competition has lowered tariffs.

Capital goods — divided

If the consumer goods firms are signalling a clear revival in 2017 and a limited impact from the GST roll-out, how’s the investment leg of the economy faring? Not as well, show the numbers. Revenue numbers for turnkey infrastructure developers, construction firms and real estate developers were already shrinking in the quarter prior to the note ban (July-September 2016).

After the note ban, they staged a patchy recovery over the next two quarters to hit a growth patch by April-June 2017. But the latest July-September 2017 quarter has seen them back in the doldrums.

These firms seem to have received some order flows from the front-ended Government splurge on roads, railways, rural electrification and the Bharatnet this fiscal. But the flows have dried up lately as the Centre has tightened its purse strings. Private sector capital expenditure continues to remain at a low ebb.

However, not all capital goods makers struggled with poor order flows. While capital goods suppliers to industrial firms were buffeted by the investment slump, those that cater to consumer firms managed business-as-usual.

Auto components, cables and telecom equipment have seen a steady improvement in growth rates through the three quarters of 2017, ending the July-September quarter with growth of 14%, 33% and 14% respectively. These firms seem to have benefitted from the trickle-down effect of demand revival in their user industries.

The gloomy picture on capital expenditure sits oddly with the strong show from sectors such as steel, cement, mining, metals and refineries — suppliers of basic feedstock to industry. But this trend owes a great deal to the rising global prices of industrial commodities which has propped up realisations, amid middling volume growth.

Export-oriented sectors, after sailing through the note ban months, have had a rocky transition to GST. Jewellery, software and pharmaceuticals displayed dwindling growth in the first three quarters of 2017. Textiles and shipping shrank last year and managed a mild revival this year.

GST apart, sector-specific issues have also played villain to some export-oriented sectors.

For software services, the backlash against offshoring and changing business models have posed a challenge. For pharmaceutical exporters, pricing pressure on generics in the U.S. market and regulatory crackdowns have hit growth.

Overall, numbers from India Inc. suggest that, while the economy isn’t back to firing on all cylinders, the accelerating sectors outnumber the slowing ones.

Extrapolating sector-wise numbers to the economy as a whole should come with caveats. In India, only the largest and most established firms tend to list themselves in the public markets. Therefore, these numbers essentially capture the trends for the best and brightest of Indian businesses.

Given that the ‘formal sector’ is widely believed to have made marketshare gains at the expense of unorganised players and unincorporated entities due to the note ban and GST, it is likely that the latter fared much worse. But having said this, the 1,015 firms analysed here account for about 35% of GDP by value.

-The Hindu

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FDA approves first pill with digital ingestion tracking system

The drug Abilify MyCite, developed by Otsuka Pharmaceutical Co. Ltd, was first approved by the FDA in 2002 to treat schizophrenia. The ingestible sensor, made by Proteus Digital health, was approved for marketing in 2012.

The Food and Drug Administration has approved the first drug in the United States with this digital ingestion tracking system, in an unprecedented move to ensure that patients with mental illness take the medicine prescribed for them.

The FDA said in a statement said that the digitally enhanced medication “works by sending a message from the pill’s sensor to a wearable patch.” “Being able to track ingestion of medications prescribed for illness may be useful for some patients.

The wearable patch that comes with the medication “transmits the information to a mobile application so that patients can track the ingestion of the medication on their smart phone. The drug when comes in contact with liquids transmits information to the patch.

Patients can also permit their caregivers and physician to access the information through a web-based portal

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Creamy layer in SC/STs quotas

The Supreme Court referred the question on the application of “creamy layer” for reservations for the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes in government jobs to a Constitution Bench.

A Bench of Justices Kurian Joseph and R. Banumathi dealing with on a batch of petitions for clarity on Article 16 (4), which deals with the State’s powers for providing for appointments or posts for “any backward class of citizens”; on Article 16 (4A), which arms the State with power to make provisions for quota in promotion with consequential seniority to SC/ST communities; and finally Article 16 (4B) on unfilled reservation vacancies, said clarity is required on the “application of creamy layer in situations of completing claims within the same races, communities, groups or parts thereof of SC/ST communities notified by the President under Articles 341 and 342”.

This question on the application of creamy layer principle in SC/ST quotas comes 11 years after a five-judge Constitution Bench in the M. Nagaraj judgment of 2006 had decided that creamy layer should be excluded from the reservations for the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes in government jobs. Legal experts note that the Mandal Commission and E.V. Chinnaiah cases had confined the creamy layer concept to the Other Backward Classes section.

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