The HINDU Notes – 19th January 2018 - VISION

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Friday, January 19, 2018

The HINDU Notes – 19th January 2018

📰 Protecting marriages across castes

Soon, honour killing will be seen as a separate offence

•Eight years after the National Commission for Women (NCW) proposed a special law to punish honour killings incited by khap panchayats, the Supreme Court has said that adults are free to marry persons of their own choice and hurting couples, or summoning them before clan members, groups, or a khap, is “absolutely illegal”.

•The Prevention of Crimes in the Name of ‘Honour’ and Tradition Bill, 2010 was an outcome of the “spate of murders and dishonourable crimes in the name of ‘honour’”, said the NCW in its statement of object and reasons. Though killings and crimes were reported mostly from north India — especially Haryana, Punjab, Delhi and western Uttar Pradesh — as well as west India, the problem was widespread and almost every part of the country has witnessed such incidents, it said.

•“A crime in the name of ‘honour’ is one of a range of violent or abusive acts,” the NCW said. This includes emotional, physical and sexual abuse and other coercive acts. “In each of these cases, the family of the girl who has chosen to exercise her choice to marry is implicated,” it said.

•Those instrumental in committing these killings are families of the couple. Either they kill the couple themselves or in association with other persons from the same caste or khap or community-based panchayats, it said.

•The purpose of these panchayats or associations is to terrorise people and prevent associations, including marriage, on the basis of choice, it said. They justify their actions in various ways, but commonly on the basis “custom and tradition”. These acts, the NCW said, show a violation of fundamental rights, including the right to life and liberty.

•Khaps exercise their authority in various ways: they demand payment from couples, impose social or economic sanctions on them, order that they or their families be boycotted, divest the couple of any land or property that belongs to them, and harass, intimidate, or murder them.

•The NCW recommended that the anyone who kills or hurts an adult couple who chose to marry of their own free will should be punished for murder or any offence under the Indian Penal Code. The government agreed to the Supreme Court’s suggestion to frame guidelines recognising honour killing as a separate offence.

📰 Budget may increase health outlay by 11%

Ministry had sought $10 bn, likely to get $8.2 bn, say sources

•India is poised to raise its public health spending by 11% in the annual budget next month, after rejecting the health minister’s demand for a much bigger increase to ramp up disease control, according to government sources and documents.

•Health Minister J.P. Nadda sought a “bare minimum” budget of nearly $10 billion for 2018-19 — 33 % higher than last year — in a letter to the finance minister on Nov. 26, which Reuters has reviewed.

•Mr. Nadda argued the funds were needed for expanding vaccination coverage and free drugs distribution, and also to ward off a growing threat of non-communicable diseases, such as cancer and diabetes, which killed 6 million people in India in 2016.

•His request was not approved: the health budget is expected to rise by 11% to $8.2 billion, three government officials told Reuters. They declined to be named or be identified further as the discussions were confidential.

Pledge at risk

•Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government last year set a target of raising annual health spending to 2.5% of GDP by 2025, from 1.15% now — one of the lowest proportions in the world. The health budget this year will put that pledge at risk.

•“What’s the point of having a (2025) GDP target? With this funding, it still looks like a herculean task,” said one of the officials interviewed.

•The finance ministry declined comment, while the health ministry did not respond to requests seeking comment. The budget for the financial year ending March 2019 will be presented on February 1.

•Shamika Ravi, a member of Mr. Modi’s economic advisory council, said she wasn’t privy to the final budget numbers, but described a $8.2 billion annual health budget as “not sufficient”.

•“If we underspend on health, it will impact India’s overall GDP by lowering productivity in the long term,” said Ms. Ravi, who is also a research director at Brookings India.

•Ms. Ravi however said she would continue to advise the government to allocate more funds for healthcare to achieve its 2025 GDP target.

•Last year, the government intensified efforts to overhaul the public healthcare system. It capped prices of several medical devices to help the poor, ramped up screening of non-communicable diseases and, on top of that, also raised the federal health budget by more than a quarter.

•But the health budget increase for 2018-19 will be lower as the government’s finances are stretched by slowing economic growth and tax collections that have lagged under a new sales tax regime, the officials said.

•Collections under the new goods and services tax stood at $12.6 billion in November, the lowest since its introduction in July, which finance officials say have upset the government’s overall revenues and budget calculations.

•In recent months, the government has said it wants to boost spending on sectors such as infrastructure, including ports and roads, to boost economic growth.

‘Tenfold return’

•In his letter, Mr. Nadda made a case for a significant increase in his ministry’s allocation, saying investments in public health would eventually result in a “tenfold return for the economy”.

•Low public health spending leads to “catastrophic” medical expenses for people, he wrote.

•India’s overburdened health system remains plagued with an acute shortage of government hospitals in rural areas. In 2016, more than 1 million children died before turning five, the highest number for any nation in the world, a United Nations report said last year.

📰 China’s rise a big disruption, ays Jaishankar

Navy chiefs too flag Chinese assertiveness in the Indo-Pacific

•The rise of China is a major disruption, Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar said on Thursday, in comments that mirrored those made by U.S. Pacific Commander (PACOM) Admiral Harry Harris.

•“One big disruption is the rise of China, then the posture of the U.S., the challenge of terrorism, and the fourth would be the implications of non-market economics. We are seeing the rise of a very different power, whether the rise is a model for others is certainly a question,” Mr. Jaishankar said. He was speaking at the concluding session of the Raisina Dialogue, organised jointly by the Ministry of External Affairs and the Observer Research Foundation.

•However, he said, disruption was positive in many ways. “China has in a way opened up the international order, which allowed India to make its presence felt,” he said.

•Observing that the region west of India was unstable while the region to the east of India was stable and focussed on growth, Mr. Jaishankar said India had “absorbed all the pressures from the West” so that the nations in the east remained stable.

•Earlier in the day, the former Afghanistan President, Hamid Karzai, said China was a huge reality in this region and the world. “We know China is a good friend of Pakistan, but so is the U,S. We don’t have a problem being friends... even with Pakistan,” he said.

•The Navy chiefs and senior naval officials of the ‘Quad’ countries flagged the increasing Chinese assertiveness in the Indo-Pacific and stressed the importance of multilateral mechanisms to maintain peace in the region. “The reality is China is the disruptive force in the Indo-Pacific region. The trust deficit that exists in the region should be addressed by China,” said Admiral Harry Harris.

Indian Ocean foray

•Indian Navy chief Admiral Sunil Lanba said China had been making increasing forays in the Indian Ocean in the name of anti-piracy and the scenario was likely to continue. “On overseas bases, it is an open question, but China has invested money in port facilities. But they are economically unviable,” he said.

•Admiral Lanba said the region was facing a deficiency of trust and fear of insecurity and called for trust between countries and transparent inter-operability.

•Australian Navy chief Vice-Admiral Tim Barrett said there was more trust between the militaries of the region than there was on political dialogue. “An abundance of these organisations and institutions, poorly managed or not aligned, makes it difficult for us to achieve meaningful outcomes,” he said of the various groupings.

•Japan’s Admiral Katsutoshi Kawano said it was difficult to change China’s aggressive policy and if it continued violating international norms, it would be isolated. The One Belt One Road initiative seemed to be an “economic initiative,” but with military aspects.

•India, Australia, Japan and the U.S. last year revived the quadrilateral grouping which in the past had drawn a sharp response from China.

📰 Tibetan leader cautions India against China’s ‘Doklam plans’

•India should be worried about China’s continued military build up in Doklam, said Lobsang Sangay, president of the Central Tibetan Administration in India. Dr. Sangay made his observations on the Doklam issue while announcing the upcoming events to mark the 60th anniversary of the arrival of the Dalai Lama and Tibetans in India.

•“India has to be cautious about China’s plans in Doklam. China has traditionally maintained that Tibet is the palm and the five fingers are Bhutan, Nepal, Arunachal [Pradesh], Ladakh and Sikkim. Therefore its actions in the Doklam region should be taken seriously,” Dr. Sangay said.

•Dr. Sangay announced that the Tibetan community in India will hold a major inter-religious event in New Delhi to commemorate March 31, 1959 arrival of the Dalai Lama in India. “We expect a representative of the Indian government to attend the event,” he said.

•The Tibetan leader pointed out that Bhutan should also express concern about the Doklam situation. “Going to the U.N. is definitely one of the options for Bhutan,” he said.

📰 Modi to visit Palestine in February

The visit was confirmed even as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is on the last leg of his trip to India.

•Prime Minister Narendra Modi is expected to travel to the Palestinian capital of Ramallah on February 10, a diplomatic source has confirmed. The visit to the Palestinian territory is likely to be part of Prime Minister Modi’s outreach to the Arab world in the second week of February, during which he will hold a meeting with the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

•“The visit is confirmed though the last minute logistical details are yet to be put in place. Prime Minister Modi will be in Ramallah for a day during his visit to the Arab world,” the diplomatic source said, describing the visit as the “most important” in the Arab country’s calendar. This will be the first time that an Indian Prime Minister will visit the Palestinian capital of Ramallah.

•The visit was confirmed even as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is on the last leg of his trip to India.

•The official said that the trip indicates that India remains on track with its traditional stance on Palestine. Palestine had praised India’s recent vote in the UN against the U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

•“We are proud of India and India’s friendship with Palestine. By voting for a negotiated settlement of the issue of Jerusalem, India has conveyed to the world that it stands for peace in West Asia. We wish to thank the Indian government, Indian people and their attitude at the UN which will ensure peace in our region and in the world,” ambassador of Palestine Adnan Abu Alhaija had told The Hindu after New Delhi voted in support of a negotiated settlement of the issue of Jerusalem.

•The issue of Indian support to the two-state solution was also discussed during the meeting between Prime Minister Modi and Mr. Netanyahu. A joint statement issued at the end of the official dialogue between the two sides expressed support for an early “resumption” of the peace talks between the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority.

•The Prime Minister is also expected to visit UAE and Oman apart from Palestine during the trip in the second week of February. In UAE, he is expected to attend an international conference.

📰 Failures of inference: liberalism and contemporary populism

Liberalism is complicit in generating the crisis of contemporary populism

•It is a measure of the abject inadequacy of liberal thought today that all it can bring to the political arena, and to public discourse generally, is high indignation at the tawdriness of what it dismissively describes as ‘populism’. Even when, on occasion, some of the more serious liberal ideologues try to do better, there is a tendency to produce a pattern of analysis that goes roughly like this. They observe everywhere the dissatisfaction of ordinary people (by ordinary people I just mean working and workless people away from the centres of power and privilege). They observe too — with dismay — that these dissatisfactions result in alarming electoral decisions that succumb to the dubious appeal of ‘populist’ politicians, who will often only increase their dissatisfaction. They allow themselves no good account (certainly no self-critical account) of how and why this has come to pass. They, thus, draw the conclusion that the fault lies in the people themselves for (at best) their gullibility or (at worst) their xenophobia or racism or communalism... And so, finally, they rest with the hope that the decencies of their own liberal orthodoxies (whether it is the Clintonite Democratic Party — which includes the arch Clintonite, Barack Obama — or the ‘Remainers’ in Britain, or the Congress technocratic elite represented in the past by Manmohan Singh and his economic advisers) will one day return to win the day. It never occurs to them through these smug cogitations that this analysis has no bite, hardly even a jaw.

Two examples

•Let me explore the implications of these inefficacies of the liberal response to populism by looking at two examples.

•Consider first, Brexit. Rather than try to diagnose what prompted the larger part of a population to have its nation sever itself from a supra-nation, let us ask rather why the working (or workless people) of Britain would, in the first place, have wanted to be part of it. As they say, what’s in it for them? Suppose one of them in Liverpool were to pursue that question by first pondering the humane policies of safety nets for the worst off in education, health, housing, etc. that were adopted by his government at the end of the Second World War. Suppose he were to ask, at what site were these policies devised and administered. He would have to answer: At the site of the nation. Suppose he were to ask whether there has been any serious talk or effort to conceive in detail a supra-national site for such policies? What would the mechanisms to dispense welfare at a supra-national site even so much as look like? These are all shrewd questions and if they lie behind the dissatisfactions felt by working (or workless) people in Britain, then, to that extent, we get a glimpse of the good side of populism, the side of populism that dictionaries define as ‘the rejection by ordinary people of the elites’ — in this case the banking and financial elites which have set themselves up in Brussels. Now, of course, such a person may well often go on to express anxiety about the immigrant hordes who have for some decades now invaded his country and undermined his prospects, not to mention undermined the longstanding national culture of which he is so proud. This, liberals rightly identify as his xenophobia or his racism and, just as rightly, recoil from it. This is the bad side of populism.

The right description

•But what, we must ask, is the right way to describe the flaw? As I’ve presented it, the right description is that he has drawn a bad conclusion (his xenophobic conclusion) from some good questions he had asked. In other words, it is a failure of inference, the lack of a logical link between sound questions and unsound anxieties. This is a point of some importance.

•Let’s consider now another manifestation of populism of recent times. This is the populist denial of climate change among Donald Trump and his supporters in the U.S. The liberal again rightly responds to this with alarm. But now consider the fact that any serious and honest analysis of the environmental crisis we are faced with would and should make clear that there is no way to respond to the crisis sufficiently without putting serious constraints on capital, so serious indeed that they might well amount to a terminus of capitalism as we know it. All else is ineffectual tinkering which is quite inadequate to what the crisis calls for — as the Latin American walkout of the Copenhagen climate meeting some years ago made perfectly clear. However, no liberal who expresses concern about climate change is prepared to squarely draw this inference about what alone is sufficient to address his concern. In other words, here there is a sort of inverse failure of inference, this time by the liberal, a failure to draw the right inference from his own correct disgust with the populist denial of there being a problem of climate change. Why, then, is the liberal position on climate change any more rational than the populist’s? If ‘p entails q’ (where what substitutes for p is ‘there is an environmental crisis’ and what substitutes for q is ‘the only sufficient response to it may well be to usher out capitalism as we know it’), why is it any more irrational to deny ‘p’ as the populist does than it is to deny ‘p entails q’ as the liberal does?

•I am keen to stress that in both examples there is a failure of inference. Let’s put it down schematically:

•Sound scepticism about the European Union —> xenophobia.

•Climate change is a serious problem —> no acknowledgement that capital must be undermined.

•In the one case, the populist draws a bad xenophobic conclusion from a good premise of a sensible scepticism about the inadequacies of what can be delivered by supranational banking and financial elites. In the other, the liberal fails to draw the right conclusion from his own perfectly correct disdain for the populist’s denial of climate change.

•What is very revealing, however, is that regarding the first of these, the liberal never focuses on the bad inference, but only focuses on the populists’ bad conclusion (xenophobia). And regarding the second of these, the liberal never focuses on his own failure to draw the right inference but instead only focuses on the populists’ denial of the true premise (i.e., the denial of the problem of climate change). No doubt, the populist is wrong to be xenophobic and to deny climate change. But we need to diagnose even so why the liberal only focuses on that wrong and nowhere notices that in the first case, the populist has something right in the premise (the sound skepticism of the European Union) nor, in the second case, does he notice that he himself has something wrong in failing to draw the right conclusion. Why does he fail to notice both of these things? The answer is perfect clear. He does not notice either because each of them would involve a fundamental and radical questioning of contemporary capitalism.

•The lesson to be drawn from this exercise I have indulged in is quite straightforward. Liberalism is complicit in generating the crisis of contemporary populism even though it fraudulently affects a disdain and disgust of the populism it generates. Because liberalism is blind to the fundamental transformations that are needed in contemporary society, because it fails to allow into the political arena of liberal democracies the conceptual wherewithal to even so much as raise fundamental questions about how to seriously constrain (to the point of perhaps even undermining) capital, ordinary working people have no recourse to anything available in the political zeitgeist to address their deeply felt dissatisfactions. It is small wonder that they turn haplessly to what is available to them, grotesque forms of nationalistic, fascistic demagoguery which promise a fabulously different zeitgeist. When they feel the whole game is rigged, they want to upturn the whole board on which the game is being played — even if that means voting for extremist forms of nationalism bordering on fascism.

Capacity to imagine

•The literary critic Fredric Jameson got one thing right when he said that it is easier today to imagine the end of the world than to imagine the end of capitalism. This is particularly true of working people. When the political culture in which they live and vote so completely impoverishes the options and so completely cramps the conceptual and critical resources on offer, why blame working people for the populisms they turn to? It is a dark time we are living in, as we so often say to ourselves when we observe the populisms around us, but what we don’t say often enough, indeed hardly at all, is that it owes to a considerable extent to the limitations of liberalism.

📰 Decks cleared for 'Padmaavat' release as SC stays States' ban

The court orders all States to ensure that public law and order situation is maintained during the screening of the film across the country.
•The Supreme Court on Thursday stayed the notifications and orders passed by certain States to prohibit the exhibition of the Censor Board certified movie, Padmaavat, saying the court's "conscience is shocked" that the States have guillotined creative rights.

•The court ordered all States to ensure that public law and order situation is maintained during the screening of the film across the country.

•The movie portrays the 13th century historical battle between Maharaja Ratan Singh's army of Mewar and Sultan Alauddin Khilji of Delhi. Many factions were up in arms against the portrayal of Queen Padmavati in the film.

'Protect artistes, people involved in film from threats'

•The court ordered the States to protect the artistes and the people involved in the movie from threats. It further forbade the States from passing any order, notification which amounts to prohibition of the exhibition of the movie.

•Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra said that a film may bomb at the box office or people may choose to not watch it, but a States cannot use its machinery to prohibit the movie's exhibition citing risk to public order.

•The three-judge Bench led by the Chief Justice, quoting its judgment in the 2011 Prakash Jha judgment, observed in a detailed order that it was "the duty and obligation of the State to maintain law and order".

•"States, on the other hand, cannot issue notifications prohibiting the screening of a film," Chief Justice Misra observed.

•The court said the grant of certificate by the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) under the Cinematograph Act of 1952 denudes the States of any power to exercise prohibition on the exhibition of the film.

•The apex court held that "once Parliament has conferred the responsibility and power on a statutory Board and the Board has certified the film, non-exhibition of the film by the States is contrary to statutory provisions."

•The moviemakers had moved the court against the 'hostile' moves made by the BJP-ruled States of Gujarat, Rajasthan, Haryana and Madhya Pradesh against the movie.

Gujarat and Rajasthan issued notifications on January 5 and 17 respectively, prohibiting the screening of the film. Haryana had, in-principle, agreed to a ban on the movie's exhibition and Madhya Pradesh had made statements that they intend to ban the screening of the movie.

•The court dismissed the argumentS by Gujarat and Rajasthan, represented by Additional Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, that the CBFC did not have the expertise or wherewithal to gauge the security risks and public order situation when it certified a movie for public screening in theatres. The States have the right to prevent "breach of peace". Mr. Mehta quoted Section7 of the Rajasthan Cinemas Regulation Act of 1952 in this regard.
'Film was certified after changes'

•Senior advocate Harish Salve, for the movie producers, said the film was certified after changes, including in the title. "States cannot throw the CBFC certificate in the dustbin. This is lawlessness. States cannot ban screening to appease their political constituency. This will lead to constitutional breakdown," he said.

•Senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi, also appearing for the filmmakers, said "States cannot become super censors".

•Mr. Salve submitted, "Certifying a film is a statutory act under a central law. States cannot defy the Supreme Court and encroach into Union territory merely because it is politically convenient." 

•He said there would probably come a day "when I can say I have the freedom of speech to distort history. The nation is not ready for it now".

•Mr. Mehta immediately protested the submission, saying "this nation will never be ready. Imagine saying Gandhiji is sipping whisky".

•"Surely you have to have watch film Jesus Christ - Superstar'" Mr. Salve addressed Mr. Mehta.

•"That is not Indian standard!" Mr. Mehta hit back.

📰 CJI meets four seniormost Supreme Court judges

Supreme Court Bench rejects plea to restrain media from reporting judges' issue

•Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra met with his four senior-most colleagues on Thursday in a second round of discussions of the issues raised by them at a press conference on January 12.

•Chief Justice Misra and Justices Jasti Chelameswar, Ranjan Gogoi, Madan B. Lokur and Kurian Joseph had met earlier on January 16.

•Thursday’s meeting was held in the CJI’s chamber before the day’s court sittings began.

•At the press meet, the four judges had primarily raised issues like allocation of sensitive cases of national importance by the Chief Justice to “preferred Benches.” 

•The discussions are likely to continue.

•Shortly after court started in the morning, an oral mentioning was made by advocate Ashutosh Dubey before a Bench of Chief Justice Misra, Justices A.M. Khanwilkar and D.Y. Chandrachud to stop the media from reporting the “subject matter” of the January 12 press conference.

•Mr. Dubey asked the Bench to pass a judicial order but Chief Justice Misra refused his plea.

•The Chief Justice had taken the initiative on January 16 to meet his four colleagues and break the ice.

•The Chief Justice and the four judges form the Supreme Court Collegium, which make important recommendations like appointments and transfer of judges in the Supreme Court and the various high courts.

•The second round of talks were supposed to continue on January 17 but did not happen as Justice Chelameswar was on leave.

•In the first discussion, Chief Justice Misra had met the four judges over a cup of tea, during which they exchanged mutual concern about the “judicial institution.”

•“Everything cannot be expected to be resolved in just one session,” the source close to the four said. 

📰 Dual duty: on the twin responsibilities of States

States have a twin responsibility: to protect free speech and preserve law and order

•The state cannot choose between protecting freedom of expression and preserving law and order. It has a duty to do both. This is the core message of the Supreme Court order staying the notifications and decisions of four States to prohibit the screening of the film Padmaavat, and directing them to ensure that law and order is maintained during its exhibition. Gujarat and Rajasthan have notified a ban, while Haryana and Madhya Pradesh have indicated they would follow suit. What troubled the court was that creative freedom could be so easily prohibited by the state citing a possible risk to public order. It needs no reiteration that summary bans on films violate the freedom of speech and expression enshrined in Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution. Such a right is subject to reasonable restrictions on some grounds, including public order. However, the use of the threat of violence and other forms of intimidation cannot give the state an oblique reason to stifle fundamental freedoms by voicing apprehensions and invoking its powers to maintain peace. In the past, the Supreme Court has made it clear that it cannot give anyone a virtual veto over a certificate issued by the Central Board of Film Certification, a statutory body, by threatening violence. The court has reiterated that the grant of a certificate by the CBFC denudes the state of the power to prevent the exhibition of a film.

•The interim order, which paves the way for Padmaavat to be released on January 25, is in line with a series of judicial decisions. In S. Rangarajan v. P. Jagjivan Ram (1989), the Supreme Court said the state cannot plead inability to handle the problem of a hostile audience as that “would be tantamount to negation of the rule of law and a surrender to blackmail and intimidation.” In Prakash Jha Productions v. Union of India (2011), it reiterated that it is the state’s duty to maintain law and order. In the current controversy, the filmmakers agreed to change its name from Padmavati to Padmaavat. The new title indicates it is based on a medieval poem on a legendary Rajput queen and not any historical personality. They also agreed to several cuts suggested by a special panel formed by the CBFC. If even after these concessions the protestors are allowed to obtain a ban, it would undoubtedly amount to a base surrender to blackmail and intimidation. It would be a taint on the country’s record of protecting free speech if a film with admittedly no claim to historical accuracy is banned on the mere pretext that some people, who have not even seen it, find it offensive. The Supreme Court has indicated where the constitutional duty of State governments lies. It is now up to them to live up to that expectation.

📰 Bitcoin’s rally may be over

The cryptocurrency’s crash should come as no surprise to its sceptics

•Bitcoin, the popular digital currency whose meteoric rise in price last year surprised many of its critics, has lost almost half its market value in just the last month. The price of bitcoin dropped from its lifetime high of over $19,300 in mid-December to below $9,300 on Wednesday and has since been trading in a volatile manner around the $10,000 mark. Yet some bitcoin enthusiasts still believe that the currency may only be consolidating to begin its next huge rally to the sky. A look at the price chart of bitcoin, however, suggests that there could be some valid reasons to get worried about the strength of bitcoin’s price rally.

•The digital currency, since it hit its peak price last month, has struggled to maintain its uptrend. Each time it has tried to rally upwards, the price has failed to go past its previous high and subsequent corrections have been severe enough to push the price below its previous low. Such price behaviour, of making lower highs and lower lows, is typical of a downtrend in the price of any security. Further, at its current trading price, bitcoin has broken well below its bullish trend line in short-term charts and looks set to do the same in longer-term charts. Bitcoin’s bearish price behaviour in the last one month is in direct contrast to its monster rally last year when its price showed a clear uptrend marked by higher highs and higher lows. That is, after reaching a new high, the ensuing correction was not severe enough to push the price below its previous low.

Time for prudence?

•In hindsight, if you were a speculator simply looking to make a quick buck without any care about fundamentals, a good time to buy bitcoin was when its price action showed a clear uptrend in price, which was over most of last year. Now, when its price is showing clear signs of reversal, a prudent speculator is likely to keep away if not go short on the digital currency. This is not to completely rule out the possibility that bitcoin might stage a surprise comeback, as it has in the past after severe price corrections. People buying bitcoin at the moment in fact believe that they are simply buying a temporary dip in its price before the next huge rally.

•All said and done, bitcoin’s present crash should come as no surprise to its sceptics. For one, the digital currency, which is supposed to derive its value from its use as a medium of exchange, has had negligible acceptance in the real world of commerce. Second, it has always seemed foolish to think that governments, which fancy their monopoly power over the issuance of currency, would be ready to allow private currencies to compete against national currencies. Bitcoin’s price action over the last one month should offer immense solace to the fundamental investor who will be glad to see its price gravitating towards its true value.

📰 GST rates on 29 goods, 53 services cut

GST Council also mulls approaches to ease the burden of filing returns in order to boost compliance

•The Goods and Services Tax (GST) Council has reduced the rates on 29 goods and 53 categories of services, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said following the Council’s meeting on Thursday.

•Against the backdrop of declining GST collections and waning compliance, the Council also discussed in detail various approaches to ease the return filing compliance burden, and the need for the implementation of anti-evasion measures.

•Some of the services for which the rates have been cut include tailoring (18% to 5%), admission to theme parks (28% to 18%), and petroleum and natural gas mining and exploration (18% to 12%). The goods on which the rates have been reduced include biodiesel buses used for public transport (28% to 18%), sugar boiled confectionery, biodiesel, drinking water packed in 20 litre containers (all from 18% to 12%), and LPG supplied to domestic consumers by private distributors (18% to 5%). The new rates would come into effect on January 25.

•“Rates have again been rationalised on few items, which is a step in the right direction,” Pratik Jain, Leader, Indirect Tax at PwC India, wrote in a note.

More cuts to come

•“One would expect that over the next few months, this process would continue, particularly with respect to 28% category, which should only be for select luxury and demerit products,” he wrote.

•Mr. Jaitley said that while the latest round of rate reductions would have an affect on the Centre’s revenues, the impact would be small.

•“It was the opinion of the Council that so far we have relied on unilateral declarations by traders,” Mr. Jaitley said. “It was agreed that there is a need to build in anti-evasion measures. The e-waybill system [to be rolled out on February 1] will be one of these. As these anti-evasion measures are implemented, the revenues should start picking up again.”

•Regarding easing the compliance burden, Mr. Jaitley said that the Council was considering systems where the invoices of the buyers and sellers could be matched easily. “The suggestion was that the filing of the form 3B should continue,” Mr. Jaitley said. “The sellers or suppliers should also load their invoices and give the details of whom the supplies were made to. This should act as a deterrent [against evasion] that the details in the invoices and the form 3B must match. Initially, the system would be of the form 3B and a suppliers’ invoice. It will be a very easy system.”

•Mr. Jaitley, however, said that no decision had been taken in this regard and that the Council would take it up during its next meeting, the date for which had not been decided as yet. The inclusion of key sectors like petroleum and real estate in GST was not taken up in this meeting, according to him.

📰 Aadhaar contradicts the role of the state, say petitioners challenging scheme

•The Aadhaar scheme contradicts the role of the state as the custodian of the citizens’ fundamental right of privacy. A duty is cast on the government and its agencies to protect the citizen’s crucial personal data from commercial exploitation by private corporates, petitioners challenging the scheme submitted in the Supreme Court on Thursday.

•Referring to the nine-judge Bench judgment which upheld privacy as a fundamental right, senior advocate Shyam Divan and advocate Vipin Nair submitted before a Constitution Bench led by Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra that Aadhaar enrolment and subsequent leakages of personal mass datashow that the state itself is exploiting personal rights of individuals by giving it to private corporates who use it for commercial ends. In a case where the private rights of an individual are exploited, it is the duty of the state to protect him from private enterprises, Mr. Divan argued.

•“The state is empowered with a ‘switch’ by which it can cause the civil death of an individual. Where every basic facility is linked to Aadhaar and one cannot live in society without an Aadhaar number, the switching off of Aadhaar completely destroys the individual,” Mr. Divan submitted for the petitioners.

•The Aadhaar enrolment has seen the state delegate “sensitive and exclusive sovereign” functions to private contractors and agencies. None of these private agencies which enrol citizens and collect their personal data have any agreement with the UIDAI, Mr. Divan submitted.

•When Justice A.M. Khanwilkar observed that the Aadhaar Act of 2016 would protect fundamental rights, Mr. Divan responded that crores of citizens had already been enrolled between 2009 and 2016, when the Act came into existence, and fundamental rights could not be protected retrospectively. He said there was no audit check of these private collection agents to whom the UIDAI had outsourced the work of personal data collection for years prior to the Act.

•In an illustration of how Aadhaar has become an instrument of exclusion, Mr. Divan related how a couple could not register their marriage under the Special Marriage Act as the authorities insisted on Aadhaar.

📰 Disaster warning system for Odisha by March

It will alert a vast population along coast through loud sirens from towers installed at 122 locations

•The Early Warning Dissemination System (EWDS), a project that aims at establishing a fool-proof communication system to disseminate disaster warning up to the community level, is expected to be commissioned by this March.

•The EWDS had missed several deadlines before being fast-tracked recently.

•“The EWDS is a first of its kind automatic public address system in the country. It will help the State to warn a vast population residing along its coast from the State headquarters through loud sirens from towers installed at 122 locations in the event of occurrence of natural disasters like a tsunami or cyclone,” said Bishnupada Sethi, Managing Director of the Odisha State Disaster Management Authority (OSDMA).

Reviews progress

•Mr. Sethi, who is also State’s Special Relief Commissioner, reviewed the progress of the EWDS implementation with Additional District Magistrates, Block Development Officers of coastal districts and senior officials so that the State could commission it by March 2018.

•“Some of the technical features of the project include satellite-based mobile data voice terminals (SBMDVT), digital mobile radio (DMR), mass messaging system to be operated from the State emergency operation centre and universal communication interface to allow inter operability among different communication technologies,” he pointed out.

SMS alerts

•The mass messaging system facilitates sending warning messages through SMS to all mobile phone subscribers in a particular locality or area likely to be affected by a threatening disaster.

•The EWDS for last mile connectivity is being implemented under a World Bank project. The State Executive Committee meeting held under the chairmanship of Chief Secretary Aditya Prasad Padhi had resolved to complete the project by March 31, 2018.

•OSDMA sources said that out of total 103 towers, 99 towers and 57 poles had been installed. All major equipment except digital mobile radio items had also been set up.

•Now, the process has been set in motion to identify responsible persons from among community, gram panchayat offices, police stations and anganwadi centres and school teachers who will be in charge of the EWDS equipment.

📰 2017 was the second or third warmest year: UN

Average temperatures were 1.1°C above pre-industrial levels

•Last year was the second or third warmest on record behind 2016, and the hottest without an extra dose of heat caused by an El Niño event in the Pacific Ocean, the United Nations (UN) said on Thursday.

•Average surface temperatures in 2017 were 1.1°C (2.0 Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial times, creeping towards a 1.5°C (2.7 F) ceiling set as the most ambitious limit for global warming by almost 200 nations under the 2015 Paris climate agreement.

No El Niño last year

•Last year was indistinguishable, so far, from 2015 as the second or third warmest behind 2016, making 2017 “the warmest year without an El Niño”, the UN’s World Meteorological Organization (WMO) said.

•Temperatures in both 2016 and 2015 were lifted by an El Niño , a natural event which can disrupt weather patterns worldwide every few years and releases heat from the Pacific Ocean into the atmosphere.

•“When even the ‘colder’ years are rewriting the warmest year record books, we know we have a problem,” said Professor Dave Reay, chair in carbon management at the University of Edinburgh.

•Seventeen of the warmest 18 years since records began in the 19th century have now happened since 2000, confirming that ever more greenhouse gases are driving up temperatures, the WMO said.

•Among extreme weather events last year, the Caribbean and the United States suffered a battering from hurricanes, the Arctic ended 2017 with the least sea ice for mid-winter and tropical coral reefs suffered from high water temperatures.

Warmth in Arctic

•“Arctic warmth has been especially pronounced and this will have profound and long-lasting repercussions on sea levels, and on weather patterns in other parts of the world,” WMO Secretary-General Petteri Talaas said in a statement.

•The findings, which match a projection by the WMO in November, now have full-year data including from NASA, the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and Britain’s Met Office with the University of East Anglia.

•In the U.S. alone, weather and climate-related disasters cost the U.S. a record $306 billion in 2017, especially western wildfires and hurricanes Harvey, Maria and Irma, NOAA said last week.

📰 India to set up $350 mn fund for solar projects to meet renewable energy target

Minister confident of achieving 175 GW of installed capacity well before 2020

•India will set up a $350 million fund to finance solar projects, Power Minister R.K. Singh said, as the country steps up efforts to achieve its ambitious target of adding 175 gigawatts (GW) in renewable energy by 2022.

•India will need at least $125 billion to fund a plan to increase the share of renewable power supply in the country’s grid by 2022, underlining the immense financing challenge ahead.

•The country, which receives twice as much sunshine as European nations, wants to make solar central to its renewable expansion. It expects renewable energy to make up 40% of installed power capacity by 2030, compared with 18.2% at the end of 2017. “The country would achieve its target of 175 GW of installed renewable energy capacity well before 2020,” Singh said on Wednesday at an event organised by the International Solar Alliance (ISA) in Abu Dhabi. Installed renewable power capacity is currently about 60 GW, and India plans to complete the bidding process by the end of 2019/20 to add a further 115 GW of installed renewable energy capacity by 2022.

•India’s Yes Bank Ltd. has committed to financing solar projects worth $5 billion, while state-run NTPC Ltd. will contribute $1 million to an ISA fund, the power ministry said in a statement.

Foreign capital

•India wants foreign capital to account for a bulk of its investments to meet its renewable energy target.

•But industry experts said most of the financing for the country’s renewables drive so far has come from domestic banks and such banks have to account for the lion’s share of new renewable investments in the future.