The HINDU Notes – 10th August - VISION

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Thursday, August 10, 2017

The HINDU Notes – 10th August

📰 ISRO to develop full-fledged earth observation satellite

‘Hyspex’ imaging will enable distinct identification of objects from space

•A new set of future satellites called hyperspectral imaging satellites is set to add teeth to the way India will be seen from about 600 km in space.

•The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) says it plans to launch a full-fledged niche earth observation (EO) satellite — called the Hyperspectral Imaging Satellite or HySIS — using a critical chip it has developed.

•There is no specific time-frame yet for its launch, an ISRO spokesman said, adding that meanwhile, the new chip, technically called an “optical imaging detector array,” that they have created for it would be tested and perfected. “ISRO is endeavouring to enter the domain of operational hyperspectral imaging from earth orbit with a satellite that can see in 55 spectral or colour bands from 630 km above ground,” ISRO has said. It said it decided to develop the chip that suited Indian requirements.

•Hyperspectral or hyspex imaging is said to be an earth observation trend that is being experimented globally. Adding a new dimension to plain-vanilla optical imagers, it can be used for a range of activities from monitoring the environment, crops, looking for oil and minerals all the way up to military surveillance — all of which need images that show a high level of differentiation of the object or scene.

•About a decade ago, ISRO added another earth observation niche with microwave or radar imaging satellites RISAT-1 and 2 that could ‘see’ through clouds and the dark — an important feature useful for the military and security agencies.

•‘Hyspex’ imaging is said to enable distinct identification of objects, materials or processes on earth by reading the spectrum for each pixel of a scene from space.

•Another official described it as “another important development by ISRO in its quest for better and diverse earth observation technologies.”

•ISRO first tried it out in an 83-kg IMS-1 experimental satellite in May 2008. The same year, a hyperspectral camera was put on Chandrayaan-1 and used to map lunar mineral resources. Very few space agencies have such a satellite; a German environmental satellite called EnMAP is due to be launched on an Indian booster in 2018.

•The payloads development centre, Space Applications Centre, Ahmedabad, designed the architecture of the chip which was made at ISRO’s electronics arm, the Semi-Conductor Laboratory, Chandigarh. The result was a detector array that could read 1000 x 66 pixels.

•According to an EO expert who called it the ‘CATSCAN’ equivalent of Earth from space, hyspex technology was still an evolving science.

📰 SC seeks details of convictions under Child Marriage Act

Statutory exception to rape contested

•As the Centre said Parliament must have thought it ‘pragmatic’ to reduce the age of consent for sexual relations for married girls from 18 to 15 as the child marriage system still exists in the country, the Supreme Court on Wednesday asked the government to provide details of the number of child marriage prohibition officers and prosecutions initiated under the Child Marriage Act in the past three years.

•A Bench of Justices Madan B. Lokur and Deepak Gupta is hearing a petition filed by NGO Independent Thought challenging the Exception 2 to Section 375 (rape) of the Indian Penal Code, which permits “intrusive sexual intercourse with a girl aged between 15 and 18 only on the ground that she is married.”

‘Discriminatory law’

•The NGO, represented by advocate Gaurav Agarwal, submitted that this statutory exception to rape was violative of right to life, liberty, equality and was discriminatory. The Exception is part of the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act of 2013 and is contrary to the anti-child sex abuse law, the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act of 2012 (POCSO).

•Mr. Agarwal said the law “violates the health of not only the girl child concerned, but also generations to come.” He said there were 23 million child brides in India, and there had hardly been over six convictions under the anti-child marriage law.

•“We see a girl under 18 as a child in POCSO, but once she is married, she is no more a child under the Exception 2 to Section 375 of the IPC. This is totally inconsistent. The truth is that a girl under 18 is still a child, married or not. Parliament has to protect the child,” Mr. Agarwal said.

Court’s caution

•However, Justice Gupta said there may be a flip side if the court quashed this exception. “Let’s say a 17-year-old boy gets married to a 16-year-old girl. ...The boy stands the chance of getting convicted for seven years. But the parents, the real culprits, may get off with a few months’ imprisonment,” Justice Gupta observed.

•Justice Lokur observed that it cannot be “presumed that just because a girl is less than 18, she does not understand the consequences of her actions. Under the new Juvenile Justice Act, a girl between the age of 16 and 18, if she commits murder, can be tried by an adult court.”

📰 ‘Babri Masjid not a Sunni property’

•The Central Shia Waqf Board on Wednesday moved the Supreme Court challenging a 1946 trial court order ruling Babri Masjid to be a Sunni property.

📰 ‘No war, no peace’ in Doklam, say officials

‘No unusual movement, deployment’

•The Army has made no unusual movement or additional deployment in the Doklam area since the standoff began with China, official sources said on Wednesday. The comments come as diplomatic efforts continue to find a mutually acceptable solution to the face-off.

•“Any movement there is a regular one for support and maintenance of the two brigades which are pre-deployed. There is nothing unusual. It is the same status of no war, no peace,” a source said.

Three brigades

•There are two brigades from different divisions deployed in the area and there is one more brigade slightly behind.

•At the standoff site, the status quo continues with 400 soldiers from each side sitting at the site with tents pitched in.

•China has maintained an aggressive diplomatic posture since the standoff began on June 16, claiming that Indian troops were on Chinese territory.

•Indian troops physically prevented Chinese troops from building a road through the disputed Doklam plateau which triggered an extended standoff. However, sources said that even on the Chinese side, no unusual movement had been noticed. In the past few days, Chinese media has upped the ante and warned that India should learn a lesson, or the Chinese Army may carry out limited action to evict Indian troops.

📰 ‘No takers for EVM Challenge’

•The Election Commission told the Supreme Court on Wednesday that its ‘EVM Challenge’ had hardly any taker among the political parties.

•A Bench, led by Chief Justice of India J.S. Khehar, is considering the question whether Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) can be tampered with. It is also looking into the incorporation of the Voter Verified Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) into EVMs.

•The Commission told the court that after the furore created by certain parties that had said EVMs were susceptible to tampering, the ‘EVM Challenge’, organised on June 3, turned out to be a damp squib as none of the major parties, except the NCP and the CPI(M), chose to turn up. Even the NCP and the CPI(M) had made it clear, towards the date of the challenge, that they did not want to challenge the EVM but to “understand the process”.

•“Thus, no political party or person was able to demonstrate how the EVMs could be tampered with during the course of the challenge. Subsequently, the Election Commission issued a press note wherein it reiterated its commitment to holding all future elections with VVPATs,” it said. The EC said it was “committed to implementing VVPATs nationwide by 2019.”

📰 Net direct tax mop up increases 19.1%

Personal income tax collection net of refunds rises 15.7%, net corporate tax 23.2%, official data show

•Net direct tax collections up to July 2017 in the current financial year stood at Rs. 1.90 lakh crore or 19.1% higher than in the corresponding period of the previous year, according to official data released on Wednesday.

•Within this, net personal income tax grew 15.7% and net corporate tax 23.2% over the year earlier period, the data showed.

•In comparison, growth in net direct tax collections up to July 2016 in the previous financial year stood at 24% while growth in personal tax collections was 46.5% and corporate tax collections 2.84%. The slowdown in the overall economy as well as the impact of a high growth base last year could be the factors responsible for slower growth in direct tax inflows, said experts.

•“Mostly the lower growth seen this year is due to the base effect,” said D.K. Srivastava, chief policy advisor at EY India said. “Last year, there was an out of line growth, and measured against that, this year’s number would show lower growth.”

•“The rate of growth in tax collection is intimately connected with growth in productivity of the manufacturing, service, and agriculture sectors,” S.P. Singh, senior director, tax, at Deloitte said.

•“If there is a fall in these sectors, the impact appears in personal tax and other tax collections.”

‘Business slowdown’

•Mr. Singh also said a slowdown in personal tax collections could also reflect a slowdown in small business activity, since salary income tends to grow from year to year. “So, one of the possible reasons for fall in personal tax is that small businesses might have slowed down,” Mr. Singh said.

•“Direct tax collections up to July 2017 in the current financial year 2017-18 continue to register steady growth,” the government said in a release. “Direct tax collection during the said period, net of refunds, stands at Rs. 1.90 lakh crore which is 19.1% higher than the net collections for the corresponding period of last year. This collection is 19.5% of the total Budget Estimates (B.E.) of direct taxes for the Financial Year 2017-18.”

•“So far, as the growth rate for corporate income tax (CIT) and personal income tax (PIT) in terms of gross revenue collections is concerned, the growth rate for CIT is 7.2% while that for PIT is 17.5%,” the release added. “However, after adjusting for refunds, the net growth in CIT collections is 23.2% while that in PIT collections is 15.7%.”

•Mr. Srivastava, however, warned against drawing a conclusion about the efficacy of the government’s various efforts to widen the tax net — such as demonetisation —based on these numbers. “One quarter’s numbers are not enough to indicate whether the government’s measures have succeeded or failed,” he said.

📰 Railways gets relief from GST cut on works contract

Contractors were seeking more money to cover the tax bill

•The Goods and Services Tax (GST) Council’s decision to roll back the increase in tax rate for government works contracts comes as a relief for the Indian Railways which had received representations from contractors on increased tax liability on various ongoing projects.

•“The GST Council’s decision to cut back GST on contract works to 12% has come as a big relief to us as there was huge uncertainty,” said a senior Railway Ministry official.

•“The contractors were demanding more money for contracts awarded before July 1 due to increased tax liability but the Railways had refused to pay for the higher tax amount,” the official said.

•The tax on construction activity, including composite works contracts, was increased to 18% from 12% under GST. However, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley announced after the GST Council meeting on Saturday that government works contracts, for both Centre and States, would attract 12% GST with input tax credit.

Panel set up

•The Railway Ministry has also constituted a committee to examine the impact of GST on the works contracts after receiving representations from contractors on increased tax liability.

•Work related to track, construction of bridges, earthwork in embankment, supply, unloading and spreading of ballast, among others were facing increased tax liability after the government’s initial move to increase GST on such projects.

📰 ‘99 FDI proposals await nod’

•A total of 99 Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) proposals are pending in various Ministries/Departments, including a maximum of 48 with the Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion, Commerce Minister Nirmala Sitharaman told the Rajya Sabha.

•Incidentally, the Centre, in May, approved the phasing out of the Foreign Investment Promotion Board —or the erstwhile single window clearance mechanism for FDI proposals in sectors under the government approval route.

📰 New therapy for brain degeneration

•A single injection of a fragment of a life-extending protein hormone could improve cognition in those with neurodegenerative illnesses, according to new research.

•The klotho protein was found to enhance cognitive and physical performance in ageing or impaired mice, said a study carried out by scientists at the University of California, San Francisco and published in the journal Cell Reports.

•“Treatment with a klotho fragment enhances brain function across the lifespan and could represent a new therapeutic strategy to boost brain resilience,” said lead author Dena Dubal.

Clinical studies

•But researchers said clinical studies would be necessary to determine the safety and effectiveness of injecting klotho in humans.

•The body naturally produces the complex hormone that is involved in multiple cellular processes, and is linked to prolonging life in worms, mice and humans. In model organisms as well as in humans, klotho levels decrease with age, chronic stress, cerebral aging and neurodegenerative illnesses.

•Prior studies had found that life-long exposure to elevated levels of klotho boost mental functions, but it remained unclear whether short-term treatment using the hormone could quickly improve cognition.

•In this study, young mice treated with the hormone for four consecutive days showed markedly improved cognitive function, benefits that lasted more than two weeks.

•Ageing mice showed improvements in just two days following a single shot of the treatment.

📰 The march from yesterday

Scientists should participate in a public debate on the nature of science and its practice in India

•These days when everybody is marching for something or the other, scientists don’t want to be left behind. A global movement called March for Science was held in different places in the world in April this year and the Indian version was held in some cities on Wednesday. But do the concerns that drove the global marches for science also matter in the Indian case?

•The call for this march in Indian cities had many problematic assertions. The march was justified by pointing out that science in India is “facing the danger of being eclipsed by a rising wave of unscientific beliefs and religious bigotry” along with reduction of funding to premier scientific institutions. They added that non-scientific ideas are being promoted and suggested that “promoting [a] scientific bent of mind can certainly help improve the social health of our country where incidents of witch hunting, honour killing and mob lynching are reported regularly.”

•The march organisers made four suggestions: allocate a certain percentage of the GDP for science and education, “stop propagation of unscientific, obscurantist ideas and religious intolerance”, insist that education should only impart “ideas that are supported by scientific evidence”, and finally, “enact policies based on evidence-based science”.

Problems with the narrative

•This statement as well as the rationale for the March for Science shows how naïve ideas of science continue to be propagated as truth. It also illustrates the power of the scientific community in India that they can continue to utter such sweeping statements about science without worrying about their consequences. Moreover, such recycling of ideas of science and its relation to society is unfair to hundreds of thoughtful scientists.

•What is worrying about such calls is that they echo the national narrative on science right from Independence. Science in India has constantly legitimised itself by creating a false opposition with beliefs, superstition and religion. The fact that this same narrative continues even today just shows how these ideas are being used as a decoy so that the real questions that the public may ask about Indian science do not get asked. This invocation of superstition, witches, mob action or even caste atrocities seems to suspiciously arise whenever the scientific community wants to demand more funds from the government. There is a striking parallel between the language and narrative of the religious right and those who hold fundamentalist ideas about science. The claim that there is a “rising wave of unscientific beliefs” is more rhetorical than evidence-based and deploys the strategy of fear-mongering to make a point. To claim that a “scientific bent of mind” can get rid of honour and mob lynching is to betray a very poor sense of the nature of social reality and social action.

•The suggestions that this group made are actually unscientific. To claim that 10% of the GDP should be allocated for education is an unscientific claim and one made without factoring either the fiscal policies on education or the challenges that confront education in India today. They also want to stop the propagation of unscientific ideas, but what are ‘unscientific ideas’? The logical fallacy of using extreme examples to push for their agenda is yet another strategy of the fundamentalists.

A blinkered viewpoint

•Like the right wing, these scientists too do not give the norms which will define what is scientific; all that we have now is that whatever scientists say or do is scientific — analogous to the claim by the right wing that whatever they say or do about their religion is that religion. Their ignorance, or perhaps their disinterest, about the rich debates on what constitutes scientific evidence betrays only an unscientific use of the term ‘scientific evidence’. Their third suggestion that education should only be about ideas that are supported by scientific evidence is patently absurd. True education should be as much about the capacity to critically reflect on science as on everything else we are taught. Imagine the world of education if we followed this condition: we could not teach art, music, literature, languages and quite a significant portion of social science, to list a few. We cannot teach history because it is not ‘scientific’ and so we will never learn how to understand the history of science. We cannot teach sociology since many theories of sociology will not pass the test of scientific theories, so we cannot really understand how scientific knowledge is created socially. Their final suggestion that policies should be based on “evidence-based science” aggravates all these mistakes.

•What these scientists do not seem to realise is that the point of contention is precisely what they take for granted: science, scientific method and scientific temper. What is common between such claims about science and the right wing fundamentalists is that both these camps do not draw upon available material which offers a challenge to their naïve beliefs. Both these camps speak as if what they say is the literal truth. Both of them try to force everybody else into their own beliefs and states of ignorance, many times by using radical oppositions and images (such as lynching).

•In the case of this ‘national’ view of science, everything they claim can easily be disproved by referring to the extensive work in the fields of history, philosophy and sociology of science. The difficulty of giving one coherent definition of science or of scientific method, or to have a theory of causality that can help explain how scientific temper can get rid of superstition, caste, religion or even mob lynching should hopefully make them more critical of their own beliefs about science. Yet nothing changes the discourse about science in India. This is truly an example of Science Sena at work.

•A march based on such an ‘unscientific’ understanding of science cannot be a march for science. It sounds more like a sermon for science. The scientists should instead participate in a public debate on the nature of science and its practice in India. This will take the mystery of scientific knowledge out of gated institutes and private meeting rooms into the public domain, which after all has been funding science for so long without necessarily seeing the returns for the cost it has incurred.

📰 The goods exchange

Cross-LoC trade continues to be a key confidence building measure between India and Pakistan

•With the resumption of cross-Line of Control (LoC) trade on the Uri-Muzaffarabad route this week, it seems that the Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir, Mehbooba Mufti, has upheld her promise of supporting this trade, which is also a part of the ‘Agenda of Alliance’ between the Peoples Democratic Party and the Bharatiya Janata Party. Trade was stopped in Uri on July 21 after banned drugs were seized from a truck while trade on the Poonch-Rawalakot route has stopped for over a month now after border tensions.

It’s about barter trade

•Of late, cross-LoC trade has been in focus after the National Investigation Agency (NIA) began probing the funding patterns of traders. Such administrative checks, although essential, do not address the root cause of trade irregularities. While the results of the investigations have not been made public, it is important to realise that this is barter trade wherein goods are exchanged against goods without involving any monetary exchange. Therefore, regular accounting and other practices of international trade may not be applicable here.

•Now that it has been decided to resume this form of trade, it is imperative that steps be taken to strengthen trade practices and ensure that it does not fall victim to speculation and allegations once again. In this connection, the recent joint meeting between officials of both sides was a rare sight, given the rising tensions between the two countries. In order to streamline trade, it was decided that permanent and formalised communication facilities will be set up between the respective trade officers. Also, based on the ongoing research that the Bureau of Research on Industry and Economic Fundamentals (BRIEF) is conducting on strengthening cross-LoC trade, a number of steps have been proposed that could lead to a change in the trading mechanism.

Steps to better trade

•First, a joint investigation team from India and Pakistan should be set up to investigate cases of narcotic and arms smuggling across the border. At present, truck drivers end up being the victims although they may or may not be involved directly. Such a team should address the root cause of such instances in a speedy and transparent manner.

•Second, to keep a check on the traders and trade practices, a monitoring cell of officials from State and Central agencies must be constituted. It should monitor daily trade practices such as registration of traders, invoicing and exchange of goods, trade balancing, etc. to address allegations of hawala money, under-invoicing, and even misrepresentation of goods. Trade data and information for each registered trader should be mandatorily recorded in an electronic format by the trade facilitation officer and shared with the cell at regular intervals for analysis and other checks.

•Third, there is a need to institutionalise and formalise trading communities. As an initiative, traders and chambers on both sides have come up with the idea of a joint chamber called the Jammu and Kashmir Joint Chambers of Commerce and Industry, which will have traders of both sides as well as the local chambers of Jammu and Kashmir and the Mirpur Chamber. Support from both governments will add weight to it. This will also help create more transparency in transactions and information flow among traders and chambers in both inter- and intra-LoC.

Train the trader

•Finally, it is important to impart training to LoC traders. With support from excise and security agencies, training sessions should be conducted on the standard operating procedures of this trade as well as established accounting practices such as maintaining balance sheets. This would help traders and government agencies monitor trade and ensure trader accountability.

•Over the last year, cross-LoC trade has been affected by a number of allegations. With a resumption of trade, the government must uphold its promise of taking cross-LoC confidence building measures (CBM) to the ‘next level’ — as mentioned in the ‘Agenda of Alliance’. Thus, it is necessary that the Central and State governments take the necessary steps towards reforming trade and ensuring capacity building of traders.

•In October, cross-LoC trade will complete nine years. Irrespective of the negative perception around it, this form of trade continues to be one of the most successful CBMs between India and Pakistan. Cross- LoC trade has also managed to connect the two divided sides of Jammu and Kashmir, thereby creating a constituency of peace in an otherwise tense region. The governments must ensure that trade continues to flourish.

📰 Working on the app-based model

We need regulation of technology and work for workers without security nets

•The line between work and jobs is often manipulated. The Delhi High Court is hearing the issue on August 10 in response to a Delhi-based union’s petition which refutes the claims of Uber and Ola — as not being employers of drivers but only providers of work.

In an Indian orbit

•This is the first Indian public articulation of a question on the so-called gig economy that has been raised in courts worldwide. The union says drivers are put under control and supervision amounting to employment, but neither do they enjoy flexible work nor receive benefits. As informal sector workers who know how to maintain continuity in income, falling incentives have upset their calculations of spending, saving, and repaying debt. The same algorithms that give drivers a written history of work and earnings also allow companies to be faceless but still in control.

•Uber and Ola drivers are some of the first informal sector workers to be immersed in new-age tech. Their work is organised around data, timestamps and geo-references, making it traceable and trackable. Algorithms that run platforms also systematise parts of work unlike in previous non-tech work. Work has readable history, incomes verified in bank statements, with regularity — paid mostly without delays, without asking. Processes and protocols were never a part of their previous work as lorry drivers, chauffeurs or drivers based at traditional stands. In contrast, most of us in “jobs” are accustomed to having legibility in our work lives.

•The High Court can create precedence for the regulation of tech-based work for a large young population which needs work but is underskilled for the formal job market. The sheer number of drivers who join these platforms indicates the sizeable digital workforce being created. Identical platform ideas are being funded in different cities as separate entities, because investors find the digitisation of local services even at city level worthwhile.

•Unlike those of us in “jobs” with protected salaries, these drivers manage earnings to spend, save and resolve debt. Legal contracts that safeguard future income (preventing untimely dismissal) and future savings (provident funds) have not been available to them. Unlike in America where the platform model originates and is called the ‘death of the job’, this new form of work has more continuities with older forms of the informal sector than discontinuities.

•Platform drivers have experienced what organised work feels like — not formal jobs, but work that is accounted for, seamless, and organised. Rides come continuously. Payments come in regular intervals, partly in hand through cash, partly in banks, expanding savings from the near to the mid-term. Primary research by this writer finds drivers made more stable financial decisions because of this organisation of platforms.

Left vulnerable

•Yet, platforms have thrown this off balance by severely changing the rules of the game for drivers. Agility, which is key to this business model, allows companies to experiment but makes drivers vulnerable. Shrinking, negligible incentives have reduced their incomes. Some cannot repay car loans. Companies restrict drivers’ access to their work data. They also say that their earnings don’t always add up. Companies are unabashedly constraining the very offerings that got drivers to join their platforms in the first place.

•As informal sector workers, drivers have learnt how to maintain continuous work and income despite flexible work. The rules of the informal labour market come from trusted networks that are tacit to those outside it. Drivers may not be uncomfortable with weekly, daily fluctuations in income on platforms because they were within a known range. But the game has no rules now.

•How do we weigh the benefits of legal formality when they come without a living wage? Who gets to decide this trade-off: the state or the worker? A countrywide skilling and job crisis leaves these informal, semi-skilled workers with limited work options — driving, with low barriers of entry, is vital here. Regulation should be responsive to drivers’ interests. Drivers can decide the quantity and duration of their work on platforms and this is valuable for them. Their terms of earning need regulations for transparency.

•It will be crucial to see whether the Delhi court judgment can create precedence for the regulation of technology and work for workers without security nets. It will take a city court, immersed in the realities of its economy, its labour patterns, its experiences of vulnerability and security, to determine these questions. For a city such as Delhi where so much work and employment is in the non-manufacturing sector, how should we think of security for workers? Do we not need to think through regulations that contain the algorithms that are set to determine the smartening of our cities and digitising India?

📰 The Maduro muddle

How the Venezuelan dream unravelled

What is the current state of Venezuela’s economy?

•Venezuela, a country with more oil than Saudi Arabia, currently faces rapidly declining foreign exchange reserves, poverty and hyperinflation — projected at 720% this year and 2069% next, according to the International Monetary Fund. Under President Nicolás Maduro, Venezuela has been experiencing an acute shortage of food, medicine and other vital supplies. Venezuela is in the throes of a political crisis that is inextricably linked to its untenable economic situation.

What was oil’s role in this?

•A quarter of Venezuela’s GDP and 95% of its export earnings are from crude oil, the price of which has plummeted since 2014 when it was trading at over $110 per barrel to under $30 per barrel last year. As a result Venezuela’s GDP and U.S. dollar reserves fell; the country has just $10.2 billion in reserves. As money was in short supply, the government started printing cash — a factor contributing to spiralling inflation. Venezuela has borrowed at least $55 billion from allies in recent times. As the price of oil fell, more oil was required to honour the oil-for-financing deals and Venezuela has not been able to keep up with these shipments. Mr. Maduro has been criticised for prioritising debt servicing over feeding his people.

How did the Chávez regime contribute to this situation?

•Hugo Chávez came to power on the promise of setting up a modern socialist republic and bringing inclusive growth to Venezuela, which had low growth, high inflation and high levels of poverty. He nationalised over 1,000 companies, funded welfare programmes and cash transfers to the poor from oil revenues, and offered an economic and political counter-narrative to what the U.S. proffered. All this earned Chávez wide popular appeal; poverty declined, employment increased as did college enrolment. However, Chávez’s rule was marked by an increasing authoritarianism and a gross mismanagement of the country’s oil.

How was the economy mismanaged?

•Rather than saving some of the oil revenues, which came pouring in because of booming oil prices for the decade up to 2014, or investing the cash in other industries or diversifying investments via a sovereign wealth fund, the economy was over-concentrated in oil while other sectors became uncompetitive and unproductive; the economy became dependent on imports. A regime of excessive price controls meant a misallocation of resources and a fixed exchange rate created opportunities for corruption among the regime’s elite. Many of these problems have been compounded since Mr. Maduro took charge in 2013.

📰 Castles in the air?

India needs to carry more weight in seeing through connectivity plans with Afghanistan

•Two months after the India-Afghanistan air corridor was inaugurated with great expectations, news that it has been hit by a shortage of cargo planes is a cause for concern. Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Ashraf Ghani had agreed on the project during the Heart of Asia summit in Amritsar in December 2016, as a gamechanger to get around Pakistan’s obstructionist behaviour in delaying truck shipments from Afghanistan to the Wagah border. The fact that Mr. Ghani himself developed the plan, which allowed traders to pay what they would have to transport their goods by road with the Afghan government underwriting the rest, showed Kabul’s commitment to securing its trade links with India. Delhi too affirmed the importance it placed on the trade route: for instance, when the first cargo flight under the arrangement landed in Delhi on June 19, External Affairs Ministers Sushma Swaraj and M.J. Akbar were on the tarmac to welcome it. It is therefore surprising that the initiative has been hit by logistical problems within weeks, leaving traders in Afghanistan with tonnes of perishable produce only because a chartered aircraft line wasn’t secured in advance. Officials argue that these are just teething troubles that will be resolved at the earliest. However, a larger question remains. Shouldn’t India be optimising its efforts to secure connectivity and trade with other countries that lie to its west?

•Despite its commitment of $2 billion in development aid to Afghanistan, there are few new infrastructure projects that the government has taken up in the past few years. The big ones, mostly planned a decade ago, have been complete, including the Zaranj Delaram highway (which connects to Iran), the Herat dam, the Doshi-Charikar power project, and the construction of Afghanistan’s parliament complex. In addition, India’s plans for the Chabahar port in Iran and the trilateral agreement to develop transit trade also need close attention. The trilateral agreement has yet to be ratified in Iran, and tenders by India Ports Global Limited to develop berths as well as the railway line connecting Chabahar to the Afghan border at Zahedan (first planned in 2011) continue to be delayed. Similarly, there has not been sufficient follow-through on the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India gas pipeline after its inauguration in 2015. Eventually, India’s dealings with both Afghanistan and Iran are not just about circumventing Pakistan. They should open up important new connectivity and commerce avenues, as well as develop markets in Central Asia, and through them to Russia and Europe. While it is heartening that Road Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari recommitted to the trilateral arrangement and development of Chabahar during his recent visit to Iran, regional connectivity needs more administrative will than just ribbon-cutting ceremonies and grandly announced plans that run aground when the government’s focus shifts elsewhere.