The HINDU Notes – 12th January 2018 - VISION

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Friday, January 12, 2018

The HINDU Notes – 12th January 2018

πŸ“° India confirms NSAs met in Bangkok

Cross-border terrorism raised: MEA

•The National Security Advisers (NSAs) of India and Pakistan met on December 26 in Bangkok, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) confirmed on Thursday.

•MEA spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said it was part of the mechanism to hold Pakistan accountable for the terrorism that emanates from its territory.

•“We raised the issue of cross-border terrorism in those talks because our main issue is how to ensure the safety of our region from the scourge of cross-border terrorism. We have said earlier that talks and terror cannot go together but ‘talks on terror’ can definitely go ahead,” Mr. Kumar said, acknowledging that the NSA-level parleys are part of the ‘operational-level talks’ that take place between India and Pakistan, despite the breakdown in the Comprehensive Bilateral Dialogue (CBD) that was launched in December 2015.

•The ‘talks on terror’ model to engage Pakistan is a break in India’s position that India had taken following the attack on the Pathankot airbase when New Delhi had cancelled the Comprehensive Bilateral Dialogue (CBD). CBD was launched by External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj during her visit to Islamabad on 9 December 2015.

•The confirmation is significant as the MEA had maintained silence on the talks between Indian NSA Ajit Doval and his Pakistani counterpart Lt. Gen. Nasir Jannjua that were reported in the Pakistani and the Indian media last month. The meeting was held a day after the mother and wife of death row prisoner Kulbhushan Jadhav met him in Islamabad, but MEA maintained that the two NSAs did not discuss Mr Jadhav’s case at all.

•“This was a predetermined meeting and the date was decided in advance and it had nothing to do with things that were happening at that time,” the Spokesperson said answering a question on whether the two NSAs discussed the issue of Mr Jadhav. He maintained that the real issue discussed was ‘cross border terrorism’ from Pakistan that targets India.

•The Spokesperson said that the NSA-level metings were part of an “operational-level dialogue” similar to the talks that are held between the DGMOs of both sides and between the border forces of two countries.

•Officials indicated that the NSA-level meeting of 26 December marks a definite trend in which India will raise concerns on cross-border terrorism from Pakistan.

πŸ“° Towards stability in Nepal

Nepal must hasten the process of government-formation

•A month after the Left Alliance secured a decisive victory in Nepal’s parliamentary elections, a government is yet to be formed in Kathmandu. The Alliance was forged just before the elections between the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist) and the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre). The transfer of power from the Nepali Congress to the UML-led coalition was delayed initially due to procedural issues. The Upper House, or the National Assembly, needed to be indirectly elected by the provincial assemblies. The parties had disagreed on the means of this indirect election, with the NC advocating a proportional representation-single transferable vote system, and the UML seeking a majority vote. After President Bidhya Devi Bhandari ratified a long-pending ordinance that allowed elections based on the single transferable vote in late December 2017, this issue appeared to have been resolved. But there are other procedural issues to be sorted out. In consultation with the Left Alliance, the caretaker government has to first appoint governors to the seven provinces. Then, the process of choosing their capitals, in order to convene the Assemblies, can be completed. Tentative proposals on new capitals had given rise to protests in several towns, and the main political parties are unwilling to take a clear position on the issue. The caretaker NC government does not seem to be particularly keen on resolving this, and a proposal has been floated to allow the provincial assemblies to convene in Kathmandu first. In the absence of a consensus, this may be best.

•The clear and decisive choice by the electorate in the polls has put the responsibility of operationalising the intricate provincial model on the Left Alliance. Once the process of nominations to the National Assembly is complete — with 33% of the overall representation in Parliament reserved for women — the election of the Prime Minister will follow. It is a foregone conclusion that UML leader K.P. Oli will be elected: the party got close to the majority mark on its own in the first-past-the-post seats. Ten years since the end of the civil war and the convening of the Constituent Assembly, the promise of economic development has been belied. This is one of the reasons behind agitations called by democratic and republican forces seeking a new CA. Nepal’s economy continues to be highly dependent on remittances from Nepali migrants as the agrarian sector and industrial growth, especially in the hydro-energy sector, have stagnated. For too long, political posturing and the game of thrones involving the major parties, the UML, the NC and the Maoists, in Kathmandu have become pursuits in themselves. With the Left Alliance promising a greater degree of cohesion and winning a clear victory, the sooner the process of election of a new Prime Minister is accomplished, the faster Nepal can get on with the business of governance.

πŸ“° India must seize the chance: U.S.

American firms disenchanted with China: envoy

•India is a “leading power” in the Indo-Pacific and should gear up to become an alternative manufacturing destination to China to attract U.S. business, said U.S. ambassador to India Kenneth Juster.

•In his first public address since taking over as the new envoy, Mr. Juster also made a pitch for India and the U.S. to negotiate a Free Trade Agreement.

•“A number of U.S. companies have reported increasing difficulties conducting business in the largest market in the region — China. Accordingly, some companies are downgrading their operations there, while others are looking with great interest at alternative markets. India can seize the strategic opportunity — through trade and investment — to become an alternative hub for U.S. business in the Indo-Pacific region,” he told an audience in New Delhi.

•Mr. Juster, who most recently served as assistant adviser to U.S. President Donald Trump on economic issues, also expressed the need for India to expand market access and intellectual property rights, both of which are the subject of U.S.-India litigation at the World Trade Organisation.

•“We are concerned about persistent trade deficits, including the one we have with India. We welcome steps by India to continue its reform agenda, expand market access, and further enhance the protection of intellectual property. And we want to work with India to expeditiously resolve trade and investment disputes,” Mr. Juster said.

•He said India and the U.S. can work together in Afghanistan, partner with Japan and Australia in the Indo-Pacific, coordinate their humanitarian assistance, as well as cooperate on connectivity projects in South Asia.

•He said Mr. Trump’s recent decision to suspend security aid to Pakistan came because Islamabad “has not done all it can to eliminate terrorist sanctuaries in Pakistan that are contributing to unrest in Afghanistan.” However, he declined to comment on a specific question from The Hindu about whether groups that target India like the Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed would be viewed with equal concern.

•“Pakistan is also important to the situation in Afghanistan. I don’t think we are going to get stability and security in Afghanistan if Pakistan does not contribute positively to that,” Mr. Juster replied, saying that the Trump administration would not tolerate “safe havens for terrorists anywhere” or “cross-border terrorism.”

•He placed defence and counter-terrorism cooperation as the first pillar of the India-U.S. relationship, while calling economic relations, energy and environment, science and health, and regional cooperation as the other pillars.

πŸ“° ‘India’s vote at UN not an issue’

Netanyahu for expansion of economic ties

•Not disheartened by India’s vote against Israel at the UN General Assembly on the issue of Jerusalem, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has expressed hope that bilateral ties would receive a further boost during his milestone visit to the country.

•India in December voted in favour of the UN General Assembly resolution, condemning the U.S. for its decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

•Mr. Netanyahu, who would be leaving for India on January 14, said: “Well I would have preferred a different vote to be frank but I don’t think it materially changes the tremendous flowering of relations between India and Israel.”

•Prime Minister Narendra Modi had also visited the Jewish state in July, becoming the first Indian premier to do so.

•“I think everybody can see that. Prime Minister Modi’s visit was a very important milestone in that. My visit to India is the other one,” Mr. Netanyahu said addressing the Government Press Office’s annual end-of-year reception for the foreign press corps on Wednesday.

•When asked about the impact of India’s recent decision to cancel a half a billion dollars defence deal related to development of Spike Anti-Tank Guided Missile, the Israeli leader said, “I think you are going to see an expansion of economic and other ties regardless of this or that deal”.

•Pointing towards the tremendous strengthening of ties on all fronts, Mr. Netanyahu expressed optimism saying, “overtime I hope I will see a reflection of that more often in the voting of India in international forums.

•“It does not nullify the fact that with India, with other countries in Latin America and Africa there is a tremendous increase of relations on all fronts,” the Israeli Prime Minister noted.

πŸ“° Buddhism is basis of an early form of globalisation: Kovind

‘It created interconnectedness in our continent’

•Inaugurating the fourth International Dharma-Dhamma conference on state and social order at Rajgir in Nalanda district of Bihar on Thursday, President Ram Nath Kovind said Buddhism was the basis for an early form of globalisation, and of interconnectedness in our continent.

•The President pointed out that “the timing of this conference is very appropriate” as “we are marking the 25th anniversary of the ASEAN-India Dialogue Partnership.”

•“The month of January is a celebration of India-ASEAN relations.”

•“On India’s Republic Day, leaders from all 10 ASEAN countries will be chief guests at the ceremonial events in New Delhi. And today this conference stands testimony to the abiding friendship and shared values of India and ASEAN – as well as to the spiritual heritage and knowledge that belongs to both the sub-continent and to Southeast Asia,” he said.

•Mr. Kovind said the conference was “an attempt at enhancing understanding of the common roots and similarities of the diverse traditions of Dharma and Dhamma.” Though known by many names they [Dharma and Dhamma] guide us to the same truth, he said.

•“They emphasise the many roads, rather than any one road, that lead us to the same desired goal,” said President Kovind.

•Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, Governor Satya Pal Malik, Deputy Chief Minister Sushil Kumar Modi, Vice-Chancellor of Nalanda University Sunaina Singh and a host of dignitaries were present.

•The conference was organised by the Nalanda University under the aegis of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs — Asean Indian Dialogue Partnerships and India Foundation.

•The President also highlighted the abiding influence of Buddhism. “It is estimated that more than half the world’s current population lives in regions that have been historically influenced – and in many cases continue to be influenced – by the enlightenment that Lord Buddha attained and placed as a model before humanity. This is the thread that stitches us all together. This is the vision that must inspire us in the 21st century as well. And this is truly what has been described as the Light of Asia.”.

•He said India’s Act East Policy has to be seen in this context. “It is much more than a diplomatic initiative. It is not targeted at just greater trade and investment. Of course all of those aspirations are extremely important for the prosperity and well-being of the people of India and of all our partner countries.

•“Yet, it aims at sharing not merely economic opportunities – but at an integration of the dreams and hopes of the hundreds of millions who live in India and in Southeast Asia. And in other parts of Asia that are covered by the Dharma-Dhamma footprint.”

•Mr. Nitish Kumar said that like the ancient Nalanda University, Rajgir too has its historical background and it too should be included in the list of World Heritage sites.

•The conference is likely to feature 60 paper presentations by scholars who have come from 11 countries and have different sessions dedicated to principles like truth, peace, harmony, non-violence, humanness and spiritual linkages; mutual care and considerations.

πŸ“° Netanyahu’s visit to give a leg-up to India-Israel ties

Reciprocal gesture after Narendra Modi made first PM-level visit in 2017

•Israeli Prime Minsiter Benjamin Netanyahu will visit India between 14-19 January, 2018, the Ministry of External Affairs announced on Thursday. The visit is a reciprocating gesture from Israel to the first Prime Minister-level visit from India undertaken by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in July 2017.

•Mr. Netanyahu will be the second Israeli Prime Minister to visit India; Ariel Sharon was the first Israeli PM to visit India in 2003, during the tenure of PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Commenting on the composition Prime Minister Netanyahu’s team, officials said that an Israeli business delegation will accompany him.

•The visit marks the high point of the 25th anniversary of normal diplomatic ties between the two countries. Apart from Mr. Modi’s visit to Israel, President Pranab Mukherjee and External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj have also visited Israel in the last three years.
•India’s ties with the Jewish state have been in focus as India voted at the United Nations General Assembly last month against the US recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. The move was criticised by some sections of commentators, whereas India had defended it citing traditional policy on the two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict.

•The visit indicates an upswing in bilateral ties that had received a boost when Ms. Swaraj made an announcement at her first press conference in 2015 about the PM-level visit to Israel from India. Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin also paid a visit to India in November 2016, in response to President Mukherjee’s visit to his country.

•Officials of the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) said that during his visit Prime Minister Netanyahu will deliver the inaugural lecture at the Raisina Dialogue, the annual foreign policy-related discussion in Delhi. He will also participate in the Indo-Israeli CEO Forum in Delhi.

•Apart from the events in Delhi, the visiting Prime Minister will travel to Gujarat, where he will visit the Centre for Excellence in Vadrad and inaugurate a Centre of Excellence for date palms in Bhuj via video conference. A press release from the Embassy of Israel in Delhi said that Mr. Netanyahu will also visit the iCreate innovation campus and centre.

•The visit of the Israeli leader is symbolically significant. It is reported that he will be accompanied by the relatives of the Jewish priest who was killed along with his wife in the 26/11 attack in Mumbai. Mr. Netanyahu is also expected to offer his tributes to the victims of terrorism during his trip to Mumbai. In Mumbai, he will also reach out to the film world with the ‘Shalom Bollywood’ event.

•In a statement issued on the visit, the Israeli ambassador Daniel Carmon said, “The Prime Minister’s visit to India is the grand finale to the celebrations of 25 years of growing partnership between India and Israel. The visit will focus on the progress made between India and Israel since Prime Minister Modi visited Israel last summer.”

πŸ“° Beijing wary of Indian presence in S. China Sea

Slams Vietnam for inviting India

•China on Thursday objected to Vietnam’s invitation to India to invest in oil and natural gas sector in the disputed South China Sea, saying it is firmly opposed to infringement of its rights using development of bilateral ties as an “excuse”.

•Vietnam’s Ambassador to India Ton Sinh Thanh on Tuesday had told an Indian news channel that his country would welcome Indian investments in the South China Sea.

•Responding to remarks, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said: “China does not object to the development of normal bilateral relations of relevant countries in our neighbourhood... “But China firmly oppose relevant party to use it as an excuse to infringe upon China’s legitimate rights and interests in the South China Sea and impair regional peace and stability,” Mr. Lu said.

Defence cooperation

•Mr. Thanh had also said defence cooperation is one of the important and effective areas of cooperation between India and Vietnam and India can be helpful in expanding Vietnam’s defence capabilities.

•China has been opposing Oil and Natural Gas Corporation exploring oil in wells claimed by Vietnam in the South China Sea for years.

πŸ“° The road still runs through Ramallah

Advocating the Israel-Palestine peace process is vital for India to restore its influence in West Asia

•Narendra Modi’s visit to Israel last year, the first by an Indian Prime Minister, stood out for his decision not to visit the Palestinian territories. Two months before Mr. Modi’s visit, even Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s closest ally, U.S. President Donald Trump, had coupled his visit to Jerusalem with a trip to Bethlehem to meet the Palestinian leadership. The decision, India had said, came from a determination to “de-hyphenate” relations with Israel and Palestine. This was underlined in the India-Israel joint statement, which didn’t refer to the two-state solution, didn’t mention the status of Jerusalem, and didn’t even call for an early resumption of the Israel-Palestine peace process.

Strengthening ties

•Instead, the two countries focussed on burgeoning bilateral ties, most notably the defence and strategic partnership. By one estimate, India accounts for 41% of Israel’s defence exports, and a possible sale of Spike anti-tank missiles during Mr. Netanyahu’s visit to India will give this steadfast relationship an added fillip. Counter-terrorism cooperation remains a cornerstone of India-Israel cooperation and there will be a powerful joint remembrance ceremony during Mr. Netanyahu’s visit to Mumbai’s Chabad House, one of the targets of the 26/11 attack. The biggest growth areas in bilateral ties will also come from memorandums of understanding in agriculture and water technology, given Israeli expertise in this area.

•During Mr. Netanyahu’s visit to Ahmedabad, where he and Mr. Modi will undertake a roadshow together, he will hand over two desalinisation vehicles that Mr. Modi saw in Haifa. Showing how little he believed the political context matters to the bilateral relationship anymore, Mr. Netanyahu said that neither China nor India conditioned their relationship with Israel on the basis of the Palestinian peace process. “[Mr. Modi said], I need more water, clean water…where will I get it? Ramallah?” Mr. Netanyahu had told a group of European officials a few days after Mr. Modi’s visit.

Difference of a few months

•However, the decision to de-hyphenate doesn’t seem quite as set in stone as it had just a few months ago. Expectations are that unlike in Jerusalem, Mr. Modi will raise the need to pursue the two-state solution with Mr. Netanyahu directly during the India visit. Mr. Modi is also expected to travel to Palestine in the next few months, and receive Jordanian King Abdullah II in New Delhi, during which the need for the peace process will be highlighted.

•At a Non-Aligned Ministerial in September, calling India’s support to the Palestinian cause a “reference point” in its foreign policy, Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj affirmed that India’s “expanding relations” in the region will “only strengthen the Palestinian cause”, not weaken it. And in a letter ahead of the UN International Solidarity Day with the Palestinian People in November, Mr. Modi wrote that India’s vision for the creation of a separate Palestinian state remains, and called for an “early resumption of dialogue”.

•The biggest shift from what seemed to be a set trajectory for the Modi government, however, came on the floor of the UN General Assembly (UNGA) on December 21, when India chose to vote for a resolution criticising the U.S. for recognising Jerusalem as the Israeli capital, and also called on Israel to end its “occupation that began in 1967”. The Foreign Ministry defended its decision as consistent with past policy, but in fact the reverse is evident. In the past three years, barring a vote at the UNGA in 2014, India has turned from its traditional pro-Palestinian stance, to one of abstention. In 2015, India abstained on a UN Human Rights Council resolution criticising Israel for an aerial bombing of Gaza that had left 2,200 people dead. It repeated its abstention in 2016. Also in 2016, at UNESCO in Paris, India changed its vote from voting ‘for’ to an abstention on a resolution criticising Israel for encroachments at the Western Wall and near the Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem.

•Clearly, India could have easily made a case for abstaining on the UNGA resolution on Jerusalem as well, especially given this recent record. The decision was taken despite strong lobbying from Israel in the run-up to the vote, and despite Mr. Trump’s open threats to all those voting for the resolution. Another possible tack came from Mr. Trump’s own statement when he announced his decision to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, saying it was not a “final status” position, including on the extent of “Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem”. Bhutan has used that statement to explain its breaking ranks with India at the vote, by choosing to abstain.

•Meanwhile, the bogey of “domestic compulsions” used by several governments in the past, a euphemism for objections from India’s Muslim minority on the Israel-Palestine issue, has long since been called out: there has been no major ‘street’ reaction to or protest of any of India’s overtures to Israel, or to the visits by the leaders thus far, and the Modi government had no cause to worry about a public reaction to an abstention in this case.

•As a result, India’s position can only be explained by a desire to reassert its leadership role on the multilateral stage, and to regain its leverage on the Israel-Palestine issue, a re-hyphenation of sorts. This is in keeping with the special place and moral position India has always assumed on the peace process, and its support to a just solution. It is also a rejection of the false equivalence often built between Palestine and Kashmir, or comparisons between de-hyphenating the India-Pakistan relationship and the Israel-Palestine issue. De-hyphenating relations with Israel and Palestine can only follow a peaceful resolution of the issue, which even Israel’s founding fathers believed was the two-state solution. “The future of the Zionist project depends on [Israel’s] embrace of the two-state solution,” former President Shimon Peres wrote in his memoirs. “The danger, if Israel abandons this goal, is that the Palestinians will eventually accept a one-state solution. Because of demographics, this would leave Israel with a choice: stay Jewish or stay democratic.” It is this solution that Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated for espousing, and Mr. Peres died hoping for — but Israel’s current dispensation is moving away from this long-standing consensus.

On principle

•Weeks after winning on principle at the UNGA to have its candidate overwhelmingly elected to the International Court for Justice, India could not have been seeing bowing to pressure or to the diktats of ‘realpolitik’ on the Jerusalem vote at the same forum. More to the point, the government appears to have affirmed that in calculating the national interest, it is necessary to value the role of India’s leadership on the international stage as well. If there is a realpolitik calculation to be made, it is that India’s influence in West Asia cannot be squandered away so casually, and advocating the peace process with Mr. Netanyahu will be an important step. The road to India’s prosperity may well run through Jerusalem, but the road to its leadership aspirations on the world stage cannot bypass Ramallah either.

πŸ“° In a first, Collegium recommends woman advocate for direct appointment as SC judge

Indu Malhotra will be the first woman lawyer to be directly recommended from the Bar to Supreme Court judgeship.

•In a historic decision, the Supreme Court Collegium led by Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra unanimously recommended the name of senior advocate Indu Malhotra for appointment as a judge of the Supreme Court.

•Sources said that the Collegium has also recommended the name of Chief Justice of Uttarakhand High Court, Justice K.M. Joseph, who had quashed the President's rule in Uttarakhand, as Supreme Court judge. The recommendations were made in a Collegium meeting held on January 10. Now, the Union Law Ministry has to take a call.

•This is the first time in history that a woman lawyer has been recommended for direct elevation from the Bar to a Supreme Court judgeship. The decision, experts say, is a rare recognition of the professional talent and contribution of Ms. Malhotra, a reputed senior advocate practising in the apex court.

•If appointed, Ms. Malhotra would be only the seventh woman judge in the Supreme Court's 68-year-old history.

•Justice M. Fathima Beevi was the first woman Supreme Court judge, appointed 39 years after the apex court was established in 1950. The second woman judge was Justice Sujata V. Manohar, who was appointed in 1994 for a five-year tenure in the Supreme Court. The other five women judges are Justices Ruma Pal, Gyan Sudha Misra, Ranjana Prakash Desai, who was part of the Bench which confirmed the death penalty of the lone 26/11 Mumbai attacks convict Ajmal Kasab, and R. Banumathi, who was one of the judges who confirmed the death sentence for four convicts in the Nirbhaya gangrape appeals.

•Justice Banumathi is the sole woman among the 25-strong Supreme Court judiciary. The court has been facing criticism for not bringing more women judges into its fold even as more and more gender-sensitive and women-centric cases reach the Supreme Court for adjudication.

•Recently, all the direct elevations from the Supreme Court Bar have been men. Justices Rohinton Nariman, U.U. Lalit and L. Nageswara Rao were recent inductions to the Supreme Court from the Supreme Court Bar. Earlier, Justices S.M. Sikri, who became the 13th Chief Justice of India, S.C. Roy, Kuldip Singh and N. Santosh Hegde were appointed to the Supreme Court Bench directly from the Bar. 

•If cleared, Ms. Malhotra would be the eighth lawyer to be directly appointed to the Supreme Court Bench.

•Justice K.M. Joseph, who quashed the declaration of emergency in Uttarakhand in 2016, was once described as an outstanding judge by Supreme Court judge and SC Collegium member Justice J. Chelameswar, who had urged the Collegium to elevate Justice Joseph to the apex court.

•Interestingly, the decision to elevate Justice Joseph to the Supreme Court comes even as a May 2016 Collegium recommendation to transfer him from Uttarakhand to the High Court of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana is still pending with the government.

•The apex court currently has six judicial vacancies even as seven more judges, including Chief Justice Dipak Misra, are scheduled to retire in the course of 2018.

•Meanwhile, the Supreme Court Collegium has also recommended the appointment of Justice J. Bhattacharya as the Chief Justice of Calcutta High Court. Justice Bhattacharya is the present Acting Chief Justice of the High Court.

•The Collegium has recommended the transfer of Justice Thottathil B. Radhakrishnan, the present CJ of the Chhattisgarh High Court, to the HC of Andhra and Telangana as Chief Justice. The Collegium has recommended the appointment of Justice Antony Dominic as the Chief Justice of Kerala High Court. He is presently the Acting Chief Justice of the High Court. Justice Surya Kant, a judge with the Punjab and Haryana High Court, has been recommended for appointment as the Chief Justice of the Himachal Pradesh High Court.

•Presently, there are nine High Courts with Acting Chief Justices, some of them have not seen a regular Chief Justice for over a year or more. The growing vacancies in the Supreme Court, experts say, may be attributable to the dimnishing pool of Chief Justices in various High Courts.

•Justice Aniruddha Bose, a Calcutta High Court judge, has been recommended for appointment as Delhi High Court Chief Justice. Justice Abhilasha Kumari, a Gujarat High Court judge, has been recommended for appointment as Manipur High Court Chief Justice. 

πŸ“° Professionalising arbitration

•In its statement of objects and reasons for the New Delhi International Arbitration Centre Bill of 2018, which was introduced earlier this month in the Lok Sabha, the government highlighted that rapidly changing economic activities demand expeditious settlement of disputes. The government also stressed the need for creation and establishment of mechanisms such as institutional arbitration to inspire confidence and credibility among the litigants.

•The huge backlog in courts is another reason for the government to consider instituting other modes of dispute resolution. Besides, the International Centre for Alternative Dispute Resolution (ICADR), which was set up in 1995 with government funds to promote alternative dispute resolution mechanism, has not been able to achieve its objectives.

•This Bill proposes the establishment of a new institution called the New Delhi International Arbitration Centre (NDIAC) for better management of arbitration in the country. The Bill also aims to declare it as an institution of national importance.

•According to the government, the Bill envisages appointment of persons of repute and those having knowledge and expertise in institutional arbitration as the chairperson and members of the NDIAC. The members are to hold office for three years and they will be eligible for re-appointment.

•The objectives of the institution are to provide facilities and assistance for the conduct of arbitration, mediation and conciliation proceedings. The Bill says the institution will conduct arbitration in a professional manner and in the most cost-effective way.

•The NDIAC will also be entrusted with promoting study in the field of alternative dispute resolution. The Bill also proposes to set up a Chamber of Arbitration, which would have a permanent panel of professionals at the national and international levels.

•An Arbitration Academy is to be set up by NDIAC to train arbitrators in India, so as to empower them to compete on par with other reputed arbitration institutions.

πŸ“° The ABC of the RTE

Open-minded adoption of the RTE Act’s enabling provisions can radically transform school education

•Free and compulsory education of children in the 6 to 14 age group in India became a fundamental right when, in 2002, Article 21-A was inserted in the 86th Amendment to the Constitution. This right was to be governed by law, as the state may determine, and the enforcing legislation for this came eight years later, as the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education (RTE) Act, 2010, or the RTE Act.

•With examples from over a hundred countries having various and similar pieces of legislation or regulations already in place, there were practices drawn from similar experiences. Since its enactment, the RTE Act has been lauded and disparaged. But there has been concern not only over its provisions but also about the lacunae in the school education system. However, there are clauses in the Act which have enormous catalytic potential but that have gone largely untouched and unnoticed. A focus on three of these provisions can result in an immediate and discernible impact.

•The RTE Act is a game-changer in that it establishes that the onus to ensure free and compulsory education lies on the state. However, the ‘compulsory’ and ‘state liability’ part needs to be imbibed by the educational bureaucracy, which is now lacking.

Focus on retention

•Though the Act envisaged that the state, i.e. State governments and panchayats, would aggressively ensure that each child is brought into the schooling system and also “retained” for eight years, it has been business as usual. Unfortunately, tracking dropouts and preparing and mainstreaming them into age-appropriate classes has been subsumed into existing scheme activities. Even seven years after its enactment, there are still children on the streets, in fields and in homes. Therefore, the problem now is more about dropouts than children who were never enrolled. Strategies to ensure retention need to change from the earlier approach of enrolling the un-enrolled. As children out of the fold of schooling are the most hard to reach, such as girls, the disabled, orphans and those from single parent families, the solutions have to be localised and contextualised.

•Though criticised as an elitist or input-driven approach, the RTE Act prescribes basic minimum standards for a school such as provision for toilets, drinking water and classrooms.

Pupil-teacher ratio

•The most critical requirement, which has also got the least public attention, is the pupil-teacher ratio (PTR). It is impractical to expect quality education without this. According to the Education Department’s data, under the Unified District Information System for Education (U-DISE) database 2015-16, 33% of the schools in the country did not have the requisite number of teachers, as prescribed in the RTE norms, for PTR at the school level. The percentage of schools that were PTR-compliant varied from 100% in Lakshadweep to 16.67% in Bihar. This did not factor in subject-wise teachers at the upper primary level as this is treated differently in each State. All other forward-looking provisions of the Act such as continuous assessment, a child learning at her own pace, and ‘no detention’ policy are contingent on a school with an adequate number of teachers. No meaningful teaching-learning is possible unless trained teachers are physically present at school. Teachers also need to avail of leave or undergo training, so that ‘two teachers per school’ is a basic requirement.

•States shy away from recruiting or posting more teachers keeping in mind higher salaries and finances, but PTR at the school level is the most critical of all inputs. Teacher provisioning should be the first option to fund as no educationally developed country has built up a sound schooling foundation without a professionally-motivated teaching cadre in place. In States with an adequate overall number of teachers, their positioning or posting requires rationalisation according to the number of students. However, this gets more lip service than attention as teacher transfers remain a grey area in most States.

Think decentralisation

•The third provision is that the academic calendar will be decided by the local authority, which, for most States and Union Territories, is the panchayat. This provision recognises the vast cultural and regional diversities within the country such as local festivals, sowing and harvesting seasons, and even natural calamities as a result of which schools do not function academically. It is socially acceptable that priority will be given to such a local event and not schooling. Not all festivals and State holidays declared by the the State headquarters may be locally relevant. So if panchayats, perhaps at the district level, decide the working days and holidays, this would not only exponentially increase attendance and teaching-learning but also strengthen local panchayats, being closest to the field, to take ownership of their schools. They would be responsible in ensuring the functioning of the prescribed instruction days. For inexplicable reasons, the educational bureaucracy has not allowed the decentralisation of academic schedules even in districts.

•A law is as good or as bad as its implementation. It is unfair to blame legislation alone for the sad state of affairs without implementing it in full measure, especially its enabling provisions. Open-minded adoption of these provisions, keeping the child in mind, can go a long way in radically transforming our school education sector.

πŸ“° A needless pursuit of Hindi at the United Nations

It makes no sense for India, which prides itself on its multilingualism, to make a case for Hindi at the UN

•There is a story in the Genesis that the entire world spoke a single language before humanity, apparently in arrogance and pride, set out to build a tower so high that it would reach heaven. And that to undermine such overweening pride, God condemned them to speak in different languages so that the enterprise failed due to the resulting confusion. Fortunately, when nations came together in the modern era to form a global alliance for peace, it was decided that the United Nations should have two working languages — English and French — lest it should become another Tower of Babel. Chinese, French, English, Russian and Spanish were the UN official languages, but by subsequent resolutions over the years, all five became working languages too. In 1973, Arabic was adopted by the General Assembly as an official and a working language.

•For the Government of India, obtaining official language status for Hindi at the UN is an attractive way of enhancing its stature among languages and propagating the greater use of Hindi. The current rules do not make it easy. It may be possible for India to get the required two-thirds support. However, it is apparent that it cannot get all these countries — 129 out of 193 members, to be precise — to share the expenditure, as the rules stipulate. Even if the funding part was taken care of, it will be a gross waste of resources to spend millions of dollars every year to fund the required translation and interpretation work. The last General Assembly resolution on the status of multilingualism at the UN noted with concern that the availability of official documents in all official languages was “limited in some areas of Secretariat activity”. As it is, the UN is some distance away from achieving its multilingual goals; expecting it to include one more language may be quite naΓ―ve.

•External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj has argued that Hindi is spoken not only in India, but also in Fiji, Suriname, Mauritius, Trinidad and Tobago and Guyana. It is quite a strange thing to say as other Indian languages too are spoken in several countries. Bangladesh has asked for official language status for Bengali in the UN, and the West Bengal Assembly has passed a resolution supporting the claim.

It’s incongruous

•It makes no sense for a country like India, which prides itself on its multilingualism, to make a case for Hindi at the UN. It will be quite incongruous for India to spend good money on interpretation and translation at the UN, when many of its own representatives use English. As Congress MP Shashi Tharoor pointed out in Parliament, the policy seems to assume that India will have only Hindi-speaking Ministers.

•Far more than gaining greater global recognition for Hindi is at stake here. As a country known for its linguistic pluralism, India should not give an impression on the global stage that it has one pre-eminent language. The government must not embark on this needless pursuit.

πŸ“° Virtual Aadhaar ID: too little, too late?

Problems persist as many have already shared their 12-digit number with various entities, say experts

•The move to introduce an “untested” virtual ID to address security concerns over Aadhaar database is a step in the right direction, but may be a case of too little, too late, according to experts, as many of the 119 crore Aadhaar holders have already shared their 12-digit numbers with various entities.

•“What about all the databases that are already linked up with our Aadhaar number? Virtual ID will therefore not attack the root of the problem. At best, it is band-aid,” said Reetika Khera, faculty, Indian Institute of Technology-Delhi.

•“Can we realistically expect rural folks to use this to protect themselves? Or are we pushing the barely literate into the hands of middlemen who will ‘help’ them navigate it?” she questioned.

•The Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) on Wednesday introduced the concept of a virtual ID that can be used in lieu of the Aadhaar number at the time of authentication, thus eliminating the need to share and store Aadhaar numbers. It can be generated only by the Aadhaar number-holder via the UIDAI website, Aadhaar enrolment centre, or its mobile application.

•Experts pointed out that the virtual ID is voluntary and the Aadhaar number will still need to be used at some places.

•“Unless all entities are required to use virtual IDs or UID tokens, and are barred from storing Aadhaar numbers, the new measures won’t really help,” said Pranesh Prakash, Policy Director, Centre for Internet and Society, Bengaluru.

•Kiran Jonnalagadda, co-founder of the Internet Freedom Foundation, agreed. “The idea is good but it should have been done in 2010, as now all the data is already out. Now, what can be done is revoke everybody’s Aadhaar and give new IDs.”

•Mr. Jonnalagadda added that Authentication User Agencies (AUAs) categorised as ‘global AUAs’ by the UIDAI will be exempted from using the virtual IDs. “These are likely to be entities which require de-duplication for subsidy transfer, such as banks and government agencies. All the leaks have happened till now from these entities. So, basically, the move will exempt the parties that are the problem,” he said.

•Vipin Nair, one of the advocates representing the petitioners who have challenged the Aadhaar Act in the Supreme Court said, “It is potentially a case of unmitigated chaos purely from an Information Technology perspective.”

πŸ“° On privatisation of Air India: Ready for sale

The decision to allow 49% foreign stake in Air India sets the stage for its privatisation

•The Union Cabinet has approved a series of changes in foreign direct investment norms as the government prepares to enter the last lap of its economic policy-setting phase ahead of the 2019 election. Key among these was the decision to allow up to 49% overseas ownership, including by a foreign airline, in Air India. This comes just a little more than six months after the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs gave its nod for a strategic disinvestment of the airline. The relaxation in ownership norms clears the decks for possible bidders such as the Singapore Airlines-Tata combine and Jet Airways — with its overseas equity and route partners — to make a more detailed commercial assessment of the investment opportunity the state-owned flag carrier presents. For the fiscally constrained government, the decision couldn’t have come sooner. With the Union Budget due soon and the government woefully short of its budgeted strategic disinvestment goal for the current financial year — as of end-November, only 28% of the targeted ₹15,000 crore had been realised — the hope must be for an accelerated timetable for the stake sale. Still, the fulfilment of a necessary condition for a strategic sale doesn’t automatically become sufficient grounds for a successful privatisation. Given the carrier’s accumulated debt of about ₹50,000 crore and the fact that the interest of potential investors is likely to be focussed on Air India’s lucrative long-haul international routes and its fleet of more than 40 wide-bodied aircraft, disinvestment will be neither easy nor guaranteed. At the very least, the government needs to set a clear, unambiguous road map for the sale process.

•The other reform cleared by the Cabinet was the crucial decision to put 100% FDI in Single Brand Retail Trading under the ‘automatic’ route, accompanied by the long-sought relaxation of mandatory local sourcing norms. This had been a major issue with potential investors including Apple, which had repeatedly urged the government to take a more benign view given the level of technological advancement incorporated in its products and the difficulty in finding local sources of supply at the requisite scale. The five-year holiday on the 30% local-sourcing requirement is expected to give companies setting up shop here adequate time to identify, train and even technologically assist in the creation of local supply chains. If this decision was going to be made, it is surprising it was not done in November 2015, when the Centre changed tack and opened up single brand retail to 100% FDI. An early decision would have helped, given the sector’s potential for job-creation and technology upgradation. Still, better late than never.

πŸ“° India, U.K. hold trade talks in Brexit’s shadow, eye FTA

Minister Prabhu meets U.K. counterpart ahead of JETCO

•Commerce and Industry Minister Suresh Prabhu held talks with his British counterpart, International Trade Secretary Liam Fox on Thursday, as the two countries look for opportunities to boost trade and investment, including via a potential Free Trade Agreement, as Britain prepares to leave the European Union.

•As part of its efforts to strengthen trade, Britain’s export credit agency U.K. Export Finance has doubled financial support for British firms that export to India.

£4.5 billion support

•The UKEF has now made £4.5 billion available to British companies exporting to India and Indian firms buying British goods and services.

•While Britain is unable to hold formal trade talks with countries outside the EU till it leaves the union (at the end of March 2019), the 12th meeting of the U.K.-India Joint Economic and Trade Committee (JETCO), being held this week provides an opportunity for the countries to build on the U.K.-India trade working group established last year.

•Liam Fox, a vocal campaigner for Brexit, said expanding bilateral trade and investment with India, and breaking down trade barriers, would be central to the task of Britain preparing for its independent trade policy.

•“It’s in our shared interest to boost prosperity, generate jobs, develop skills, and enhance the competitiveness of both our countries,” Mr. Fox said.

•Mr. Prabhu is on a four-day visit to London, as part of which he is set to attend JETCO and address an audience at the London School of Economics on the role of trade and investment in driving sustainable and inclusive growth. His visit comes ahead of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in April, which Prime Minister Narendra Modi is expected to attend.

πŸ“° Space companies bet big on PSLV

The PSLV, resuming after a failure in August, is placing these and 25 nanosatellites (up to 10 kg) in orbits 505 km away from Earth.

•At least three overseas space companies have bet big on the PSLV-C40 launch of Friday. They each have put a 100-kg-class microsatellite on it as a testbed of their potential future constellations.

•Also, at least two older constellation operators have brought new batches to be put in space by the Indian light-lifting launcher.

•The PSLV, resuming after a failure in August, is placing these and 25 nanosatellites (up to 10 kg) in orbits 505 km away from Earth. The nanosats also carry experiments of companies and universities from multiple countries.

•Rakesh Sasibhushan, CMD of Antrix Corporation, which markets the PSLV (and other ISRO services) to global satellite operators, said, “We have three important proof-of-concept microsats in C40. It is for the first time that such technology demonstrators have come together as customers on a single PSLV vehicle.” There had been one or two before but in singles.

New business

•“Once the technologies are proven, they may lead to their operators’ firming up new constellations and the requirements for launching them in future. Hopefully they bring in more business to Antrix.”

Mixed luck

•On its 42nd flight and 209 foreign customers behind it, the PSLV’s onus seems to be getting as big as the brand; a few of the current customers have tried other launchers but with mixed luck.

•In the $ 5.5-billion global market for satellite launch vehicles, there are not too many similar vehicles available in time and which can take up such small satellites for their operators.

•About the confidence level in this flight, Mr. Sasibhushan said everyone in the space industry understands that globally, launch failures are a part of the game.

₹ 95-crore rides

•Antrix, the business arm of the Indian Space Research Organisation, earns ₹95 crore from arranging the PSLV-C40 flights for 28 customer payloads, which together weigh 503 kg.

•Three of the 31 going to space on it are ISRO’s satellites Cartosat-2F, Microsatellite and INS-1C. For the next four years, Antrix has signed contracts worth ₹800 crore including the current crop. Without naming them, Mr. Sasibhushan said they include a couple of dedicated or fully commercial launches, which earn more money for the company.

•Deals worth another ₹350 crore are in the pipeline. “The [PSLV’s] market looks good and we are trying to capitalise on it to the extent possible. We hope ISRO can spare another vehicle for us so that we can target two commercial launches a year,” he said.

•Antrix is also looking at bigger sights and started pitching the bigger GSLV vehicle in international tenders.

•For the fiscal 2017-18, Antrix expects a turnover of over ₹1900 core, slightly more than the previous year’s. ISRO is marketing only the spare PSLV capacity and is trying to increase the manufacturing capacity of the booster through industry, Mr. Sasibhushan said.

πŸ“° Mullaiperiyar dam: SC asks Centre, TN, Kerala to set up panels to prepare disaster management plans

The dam is built on an elevated junction of 850m and has a height of of 53.6m (176ft.) from the foundation, and a length of 365.7m (1,200ft.) for catering to the irrigational needs of Tamil Nadu.

•Despite assurances from the Union government that the 122-year-old Mullaiperiyar dam is “safe”, the Supreme Court on Thursday directed it to set up a special committee to exclusively prepare disaster management plans.

•A three-judge Bench led by Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra also directed Tamil Nadu, which owns the dam, and Kerala, where it is situated, to set up similar committees. It said the three committees would work in harmony.

•The Bench said the step was taken to allay the fears of thousands of people who live downstream or in the vicinity of the dam. It clarified in the order that the special committees have nothing to do with the lifespan or safety of the dam. Their brief is restricted to disaster management plans to prevent a calamity or contain the loss of life and damage to property in case a tragedy hits the dam.

Panel on dam's safety, lifespan formed after court order in May 2014

•The Bench noted that a committee had been formed to cover the aspects of safety and lifespan of the dam as ordered by a Constitution Bench of the court in May 2014.

•The order came on a petition to direct the government to appoint an international agency to study the longevity of the dam, a perennial source of water and controversy between Tamil Nadu and Kerala, built in 1895.

•The petition is filed by advocate Russell Joy, who represents about three million people who live in the dam's downstream area and fall in the direct line of a catastrophe that may arise from a “burst” of the dam.

•The petition said the dam was constructed across the Periyar river, using “crude lime surkhi mortar, at a time when dam engineering was in its infancy as a composite gravity structure.”

“People live in fear”

•The petition said the dam was built for 50 years and had already survived for 122 years. “People live in fear. Do we require the Bhopal gas disaster or an Ochki to understand what a disaster is? Kindly have ready an emergency plan. Please don’t wait for the structure to be broken to act. We have a right to life,” advocate Manoj George, for the petitioner, pleaded.

•Mr. George said the Dam Safety Bill of 2010 had still not seen the light of the day and there was legislative vacuum as far as dam disasters are concerned.

•Attorney-General K.K. Venugopal submitted that the Centre was aware of the dangers regarding dam disasters and had taken over checks of 5,000 dams across the country. A committee had been constituted to keep a close watch on the safety of the Mullaiperiyar dam and recommend preventive measures in compliance with the 2014 Supreme Court judgment.

•Mr. Venugopal produced a letter from the Committee chairman Gulshan Raj in this context.

•“But suppose there is heavy rains, water is released, what kind of disaster management has to be taken? We will ask for a special disaster management plan or scheme for Mullaiperiyar dam,” Chief Justice Misra remarked.

•“The Centre is determined to see that the safety of the dam and provisions of the Disaster Management Act of 2005 are implemented in nature and spirit,” Mr. Venugopal said.

•The dam is built on an elevated junction of 850 metres and has a height of of 53.6 metres (176 feet) from the foundation, and a length of 365.7 metres (1,200 feet) for catering to the irrigational needs of Tamil Nadu.

•The petition said that in case of a disaster, the “water will rush like a bullet” due to the steep hilly geographical features of the place to cover the 100 km to the Arabian Sea in less than an hour through the thickly populated areas downstream.

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