The HINDU Notes – 03rd February 2018 - VISION

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Saturday, February 03, 2018

The HINDU Notes – 03rd February 2018

📰 Supreme Court dismisses plea to make rape a gender-neutral offence

•Why are certain crimes like rape in the Indian Penal Code (IPC) targeting men alone?

•Why cannot women also be the perpetrators of crimes like under Section 375 b (insertion of foreign objects into the private parts of a woman)?

•These are the questions that the Supreme Court faced on Friday morning from a public interest litigation (PIL) petition, which it finally dismissed.

•The judges on the Bench led by Chief Justice Dipak Misra reacted with different questions, all voicing an opinion that it is up to Parliament to gauge the changed social circumstances, and may be revamp the colonial penal code.

•“So you are saying that a woman can stalk a man. Well, the law is open for change. Let Parliament look into it,” Justice D.Y. Chandrachud observed.

“Provisions like rape are women protective”

•Chief Justice Misra said provisions like rape were “women protective” and cannot be used to make women perpetrators.

•“Have you ever seen a woman file a complaint against a woman for rape? There are different sections for that,” Chief Justice Misra said.

•The petitioner-in-person, advocate Rishi Malhotra, said the term ‘man,’ wherever it is used in the definition of crimes under the IPC, should be replaced by ‘whoever,’ thus making the crime applicable for both men and women.

•He claimed that the IPC was violative of the fundamental right against discrimination on the basis of gender enumerated in Article 15 of the Constitution.

•The Chief Justice responded, observing that Article 15 was specifically intended to protect women and children from discrimination.

📰 Link between sanitation, stunting questioned

Research findings were published in The Lancet Global Health on January 29

•Stunting among children, or low height for age, is common in developing countries with poor sanitation. Scientists hypothesise that this is because open defecation and unclean water expose children to faecal bugs. Even if these pathogens do not cause diarrhoea, they inflame a child’s gut and hamper the food absorption

•However, two studies from Bangladesh and Kenya show that this hypothesis may need a rethink. The studies, which targeted over 13,000 families, showed that water purification, sanitary latrines and hand-washing (WASH) interventions in select households were not enough to prevent stunting in those households. The findings, published in The Lancet Global Health on January 29, mean one of two things. First, WASH interventions may need to be very widespread to make a difference. Second, factors other than WASH may be critical to stunting. Gagandeep Kang, executive director of Delhi’s Translational Health Science and Research Institute, who was not involved in the studies, says the latter is more likely in developing countries that have already made progress with hygiene. “A few decades ago, when water really was much more contaminated, I might have expected a difference,” she told The Hindu. But today, when people are less exposed to pathogens, the role of WASH in stunting may be declining.

Seven groups formed

•The two studies, to test whether WASH interventions could reduce gut-inflammation, and consequently, stunting, began in 2012. One group, led by Stephen Luby of US’s Stanford WOODS Institute of Environment, enrolled 5,551 pregnant women from around Dhaka, and divided their families into seven groups. Three groups received the three individual WASH interventions, while a fourth received nutritional counselling and dietary supplements for children. The fifth group received all three WASH interventions, the sixth received WASH as well as nutrition, while a seventh served as a control. Once the pregnant women gave birth, stunting, diarrhoea and mortality rates were tracked among their children for two years. Another research group, led by Clair Null, a child-health researcher at USA’s Mathematica Policy Research, carried out a similar experiment on 8,246 pregnant women in Kenya.

Kenyan study

•After two years, the Bangladeshi study found children in the WASH groups to be no taller than controls. Improved diet did not make a big difference either – it corrected only a sixth of the height deficit in the nutrition groups. The Kenyan study reported similar findings.

•The findings were a surprise to Luby, because previous research supports the link between hygiene and stunting. But Luby cautions that it is too early to dismiss the link, because the WASH interventions may have failed at fully cutting exposure to faecal bugs and gut-inflammation. “We have forthcoming evidence that illustrates that although we did reduce exposure to faecal organisms somewhat, there was a large reservoir in the environment that children continue to be exposed to,” he told The Hindu. Such exposure could occur in several ways. While the interventions were restricted to household compounds and human faeces, children also come in contact with the outside environment and animal faeces. Plus, while chlorine is a good disinfectant, it may not work against protozoa like Giardia lamblia.

Prenatal nutrition

•An alternative explanation, Clair Null says, is that other factors, like prenatal nutrition, are as important as WASH. “If I were a policy maker, I would not invest in WASH to reduce stunting right now, although it might work in a certain set of circumstances. The problem is that we don’t know what those circumstances are,” she told The Hindu. Kang adds that governments must still focus on WASH because it is a basic human right. “But should we expect sanitation to solve stunting? It will not,” she says.

📰 Health scheme will be well-funded: Nadda

‘Families will no longer crumble under financial burden’

•Calling it ‘historic’, ‘bold’ and ‘committed to the common man’, Union Health Minister J.P. Nadda welcomed Budget 2018, which had seen an 11.5% increase in the allocation for the health sector.

•Stating that the Budget would change the socio-economic scenario of the country and aid in increased productivity for the common man, the Minister told a press conference: “The Budget will spur growth and development. It is aimed towards all sections of the country. This is a visionary and people-oriented budget.”

•The Minister spoke about the National Health Protection Scheme, which will cover 10 crore households by providing an annual package of Rs. 5 lakh for hospitalisation needs. “This will change the face of health care in India and we will no longer have families breaking down under the financial burden of medical care,” the Minister said. The government was working on the intricate details of the scheme and would come out with a definite plan soon. “We are confident about the scheme. Finances will never be a problem. Details will be given out as soon as we are ready to implement it,” he said.

‘Rs. 2,000 cr. kept aside’

•The Minister said the Budget was progressing towards universal health coverage and noted: “We are looking towards going away from diseases-specific treatment to providing preventive healthcare. We seek the support of everyone to ensure that this scheme is a success.”

•Asked who will pay the premium, Mr. Nadda said: “The government will pay the premium with the States’ share. Rs. 2,000 crore has been kept for it as of now.”

•“History is witness that whatever we [the BJP-led government] have committed, we have completed. That is why finance is not the problem, has never been the problem and will never remain a problem,” Mr. Nadda said.

Enhanced numbers

•Asked about an earlier scheme where the government had announced a Rs. 1 lakh coverage, Mr. Nadda said under that programme, there were only four crore beneficiaries, whose number had been enhanced now.

•The State governments were ready to implement the scheme and the financial arrangements would be made accordingly. “The States have to decide whether they want to subsume this [scheme] or they want to run on their own,” he said.

•The Minister also highlighted the nutritional support scheme for TB patients. “Through this we hope to reduce and contain multidrug-resistant TB in India.”

•“We are hopeful that this Budget will prove to be the game changer for us,” he said.

📰 Get cracking: on implementing 'Modicare'

The Centre must draw up an implementation roadmap for the new health scheme

•The NDA government lost precious time in its first three years in initiating a health scheme that serves the twin purposes of achieving universal coverage and saving people from high health care costs. It announced two years ago in the Budget a health protection scheme offering a cover of ₹1 lakh per family, but ultimately that did not extend beyond ₹30,000. Fresh hopes have been raised with the announcement of Ayushman Bharat in Budget 2018. The plan has the components of opening health centres for diagnostics, care and distribution of essential drugs as envisaged in the National Health Policy, and a National Health Protection Scheme (NHPS) to provide a cover of up to ₹5 lakh each for 10 crore poor and vulnerable families for hospitalisation. These are challenging goals, given the fragmented nature of India’s health system. Some States already purchase health cover for the poor, but do not regulate private secondary and tertiary care services or treatment costs. The task before the Centre, which has provided ₹3,200 crore for the programme areas, is to now draw up an implementation roadmap.

•Developing countries that launched universal health coverage schemes over a decade ago, such as Mexico, had to address some key challenges. These included transfer of resources to provinces, recruitment of health personnel, and purchase and distribution of medicines to the chosen units. All these apply to India. Moreover, the steady growth of a for-profit tertiary care sector poses the additional challenge of arriving at a basic care package for those who are covered by the NHPS, at appropriate costs. A national health system will also have to subsume all existing state-funded insurance schemes. This will give beneficiaries access not just within a particular State but across the country to empanelled hospitals. In the case of the local health centres that are planned under the Ayushman Bharat programme, there is tremendous potential to play a preventive role by reducing the incidence and impact of non-communicable diseases such as diabetes and hypertension. Such centres can dispense free essential medication prescribed by all registered doctors and procured through a centralised agency. But the efficiency of a large-scale health system depends on strict regulation. The early experience with state-funded insurance for the poor shows that some private hospitals may resort to unnecessary tests and treatments to inflate claims. Determination of treatment costs by the government is therefore important. This will also aid those with private health insurance, since it eliminates information asymmetry and provides a comparison point. The Centre must share details of the next steps.

📰 Exiled former President of the Maldives Mohamed Nasheed promises to contest elections again

Maldives SC overturns his conviction; Respect verdict, says India

•Mohamed Nasheed, the exiled former President of the Maldives, said on Friday he hoped to contest presidential polls this year, following a surprise Supreme Court ruling that ordered his immediate release.

•“Now that all my civil and political rights have been restored, I will be able to contest elections,” he told The Hindu in Colombo.

•The Maldives witnessed turmoil on Friday, after the Supreme Court late on Thursday nullified the convictions of Mr. Nasheed and eight others, terming their trials “questionable and politically motivated”. Mr. Nasheed was barred from contesting any election in the Maldives after his controversial 2015 conviction on a terrorism charge.

•The development, in the wake of growing allegations of corruption and authoritarianism against President Abdulla Yameen, sparked violent clashes in Male between police and large groups of dissidents. While opposition supporters demanded immediate implementation of the ruling, police used force to disperse the crowd, local sources said.

•“The police pepper-sprayed many of us. They were trying to disperse the crowd that had assembled spontaneously in a show of solidarity and to celebrate the verdict,” Rushdha Rasheed, a journalist of Raajje TV, present at the rally, told The Hindu over telephone.

•The Supreme Court in its ruling observed that the earlier trials were a violation of the Constitution and international law. The apex court has ordered new trials.

•In an official statement issued on Friday morning, the government said it would “vet and clarify” the ruling. On Friday evening, the international spokesperson at the President’s office, Ibrahim Hussain Shihab, said the administration had “shared its concerns” with the Chief Justice over the ruling.

•In a press briefing held in Male, Attorney General Uz. Mohamed Anil assured the media that the administration was working with all relevant authorities of the state, to carry out the speedy implementation of the Supreme Court ruling. However, the government is yet to implement the order, according to sources in Male.

•India urged the Maldives government to “respect” the verdict. “In the spirit of democracy and rule of law, it is imperative for all organs of the government of Maldives to respect and abide by the order of the apex court. We also hope that the safety and security of the Indian expatriates in Maldives will be ensured by the Maldivian authorities under all circumstances,” the Ministry of External Affairs said in a press release.

•Meanwhile, President Yameen dismissed the Commissioner of Police, Ahmed Areef. According to opposition sources and local media reports, the top cop tried to take measures to implement the ruling on Friday, even as some within the police and military reportedly resisted it. Asked about the Commissioner’s sudden removal, the President’s office confirmed the move, but did not give a reason.

•On the apparent reluctance of the Yameen administration to act on the ruling, Mr. Nasheed said: “President Yameen knows that if he implements it, we [the Opposition] would have a majority in Parliament. He is reluctant because he does not want to contest elections against me.”

•Mr. Nasheed has been living in London since 2016, after the U.K. granted him political asylum. The likely re-entry of Mr. Nasheed foretells a significant change in politics in Male, especially at a time when opposition forces were finding it hard to field a candidate to fight Mr. Yameen in polls.

•Male has been buzzing with the prospect of some change for some time now, political sources in Male said, particularly after Opposition forces began working closely with each other in the last year.

•In Mr. Nasheed’s view, while a “combination of factors” were likely to have prompted the court ruling, the “last straw” was a recent raid on a resort run by Gasim Ibrahim, a prominent Opposition politician and a high-profile businessman. Critics said the raid was politically motivated.

•“Moreover, people have begun realising that there is a strong radical Islamist strand within the government, the deep state. China’s growing debt trap in the island is also concerning many, about the Maldives possibly relinquishing the country’s sovereignty to China,” he said.

•Observing that India’s statement on the development was “very welcome”, Mr. Nasheed said India must not only be “more closely engaged” with Male, but also watch the developments closely and make sure the rule of law is upheld in the Maldives.

📰 Forging a new nuclear deal

The India-U.S. civil nuclear agreement is obsolete. In reviving it, India must heed the new global realities

•Watching the Republic Day parade, where 10 ASEAN leaders were chief guests, it was easy to miss the fact that the dates of their visit also marked the anniversary of another big visit three years ago: the visit by then U.S. President Barack Obama, when he announced a “breakthrough” in the India-U.S. civil nuclear deal, to finally pave the way for a commercial contract. “The deal is done,” Sujatha Singh, who was Foreign Secretary at the time, said as the government issued papers and held briefings describing the nature of the agreement between India and the U.S. on supplier liability and tracking requirements, which would enable American companies to build nuclear power reactors in India.

A decade on

•Today, nearly a decade since the memoranda of understanding were inked, and three years after the last wrinkles were ironed out, there is no sign yet of any concrete contract between an American company and the Indian authorities to build a reactor. In 2009, both GE-Hitachi and Toshiba-Westinghouse had begun talks on techno-commercial agreements for six reactors each in India. These commercial contracts were to be the start of the ‘payoff’ for the U.S. that had considerably shifted its stand on non-proliferation to give India the waivers needed, and they were to herald India’s arrival on the global nuclear power stage in return.

•Instead, GE-Hitachi’s plans were shelved after it rejected the Obama-Modi agreement in January 2015, saying GE would not accept the compromise formula on supplier liability. (While others have indicated they would accept the liability offer, none of them has put that on paper.)

•Toshiba-Westinghouse then carried the baton to actualise the India-U.S. civil nuclear deal, but ran into a different storm as both Toshiba and Westinghouse had major financial troubles last year. After a near-bankruptcy, Toshiba jettisoned Westinghouse for just $4.6 billion to a Canadian consortium, a deal that is now expected to be cleared by the end of 2018.

•As the U.S. sends Westinghouse officials to India next week to reopen negotiations, the government must consider all that has changed before deciding to go ahead with the commercial contract. With shifts in global politics, renewable energy technology, the U.S.’s commitment to India, and the supplier’s capacity and ability, it would be ridiculous if India remained steadfast to a deal envisaged a decade ago under very different circumstances.

•To begin with, there are changes in the deal itself. The financial crisis was set off because Westinghouse went into major cost overruns, possibly worth more than $15 billion, in building four AP1000 reactors at two projects in the U.S., the same reactors as the ones meant for India. When work was halted on the Westinghouse projects in South Carolina, the construction was already five years over schedule. India’s past record with Russian projects (the only foreign collaboration operational so far) puts the mean time to construct a reactor here at nine years. This would mean that even if an India-U.S. techno-commercial contract is finally readied in 2019, and the ground breaking begins immediately, it may not see fruition until 2029, a good 20 years after the nuclear agreement was signed. Westinghouse’s new buyers have already pared the business, will not construct the nuclear power project in India, and will only supply reactors and components. In the terrible scenario of a Fukushima-type nuclear accident in
India, this further dilutes the liability that U.S. companies would carry. This was certainly not the future envisioned by those who first negotiated the India-U.S. civil nuclear agreement, and it calls into question whether the agreement, as it stood in January 2015 when Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Mr. Obama made that announcement, is even valid.

The Trump effect

•Second, Donald Trump’s presidency has taken a very sharp turn away from renewable energy, and even the promise of nuclear dollars have dimmed in comparison to the lucre of fossil fuels in America. In his State of the Union address last week, Mr. Trump said that the U.S. has “ended the war on beautiful, clean coal,” and will now mine, export and push oil, gas, coal and shale trade into its foreign outreach. A case in point is the big pitch Mr. Trump made during his meeting with Mr. Modi in Washington last June, which led to Indian orders for both oil and gas shipped from America. As a result, New Delhi may not get the support that the Obama administration had promised both on financing renewable energy projects and in facilitating India-U.S. civil nuclear power deals.

•India has already received a rude shock with the U.S. pulling out of the Paris climate change accord, and from Mr. Trump’s singling out India as a “leading polluter” during his announcement of that decision last year. This, after the Obama administration had browbeaten India into acceding to the Paris accord two months ahead of deadline, by promising to help India reduce its dependence on fossil fuels.

•Third, India’s own requirements from the India-U.S. civil nuclear deal have changed considerably. In May 2017, the Cabinet approved a $11 billion, 7,000 MW construction plan for 10 Indian-made pressurised heavy water reactors (PHWRs). With existing constructions and the current capacity of 6,780 MW, India hopes to have 14,600 MW of nuclear power online by 2024. Even as it makes a push for indigenous nuclear power plants, the Department of Atomic Energy is also advocating PHWRs in more inland sites in Rajasthan, Haryana, Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh, with concerns about too many nuclear projects dotting the southern coastline which lies along tsunami and earthquake faultlines, as the U.S. and French projects are. India has also found much more comfort in its existing agreement with Russia’s Atomstroyexport, that began with the Intergovernmental Agreement for Kudankulam 1 and 2 in 1988, and has kept a slow but steady pace in delivering reactors and operationalising power projects. When asked about India’s new focus for other foreign collaborations, the long-serving Russian Ambassador Alexander Kadakin, who passed away last year, used to reply, “When you see the first nail in the first beam of the first power project built by anyone other than us (Russia), ask me the question again.”

•Another issue relates to the cost that India is prepared to pay for nuclear energy through foreign collaborations. Indo-French negotiations for six 1,650 MW European Pressurised Reactors (EPRs) in Maharashtra’s Jaitapur have dragged on for a decade on this count, with the Department of Atomic Energy announcing in 2013 that the cost “cannot go above” ₹6.50 per unit, and the French company Areva (the project has now been handed to EDF) clearly seeking more.

A changed landscape

•Finally, shifts in the world nuclear industry must be studied closely before heading back into negotiations with new companies. As the pressure to lower nuclear power tariffs increases, nuclear safety requirements have become more stringent, putting intense strain on all those in the business. Ironically, while French President Emmanuel Macron visits India for the International Solar Alliance this March, much of his bilateral negotiations will focus on getting a better deal in Jaitapur for EDF, which is counting on the nuclear project for its own financial future. Most nuclear companies globally are staring at major losses over their nuclear businesses, and this too must be factored into India’s negotiations. More countries now see nuclear power as a “base-load” option, to be kept as back-up for the unstable, but infinitely less costly and eco-friendly solar and hydroelectric power options. That is, nuclear power is losing its primacy in the energy mix. In 2016, for example, global wind power output grew by 16%, solar by 30%, but nuclear energy only by 1.4%.

•As a result of all these changes, the India-U.S. civil nuclear agreement for commercial projects, as it was completed all those years ago, is now obsolete and reviving it will require a different template that takes into account India and the new global realities. The deal that was “done” is now dead. Long live a new deal.

📰 Supreme Court refers jallikattu challenge to Constitution Bench

Bench to decide whether Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra can conserve jallikattu and bullock cart races as their cultural right and demand their protection under Article 29 (1)

•The Supreme Court on Friday referred to a Constitution Bench to decide whether the people of Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra can conserve jallikattu and bullock-cart races as their cultural right and demand their protection under Article 29 (1) of the Constitution.

•A Bench of Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra and Justice Rohinton Fali Nariman, in a judgment, formulated five questions for the Constitution Bench to decide on.

•The judgment was authored by Justice Nariman for the Bench.

•Article 29 (1) is a fundamental right guaranteed under Part III of the Constitution to protect the educational and cultural rights of citizens.

•Though commonly used to protect the interests of minorities, Article 29 (1) mandates that “any section of the citizens residing in the territory of India or any part thereof having a distinct language, script or culture of its own shall have the right to conserve the same”.

•If jallikattu is upheld by the Constitution Bench as a cultural right and part of the "collective culture" of the people of Tamil Nadu under Article 29 (1), provisions of other laws which undermine jallikattu may run the risk of being struck down.

•“It has never been looked into whether a State can claim constitutional protection under Article 29 (1) for what it thinks is a cultural right,” Chief Justice Misra orally observed when reserving the case for final judgment in the previous hearing.

•The Constitution Bench would also look into whether the 2017 jallikattu and bullock cart races laws of Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra actually subserve the objective of “prevention” of cruelty to animals under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act of 1960.

•The Bench will also have to say whether the laws are really in consonance with the basic tenets of the 1960 Act.

'80% of Tamil Nadu people support the sport'

•The Tamil Nadu government, represented by senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi, argued that 80% of the population of the State supported jallikattu and the sport had strongholds in the rural parts.

•Attorney General K.K. Venugopal said the support for jallikattu was irrespective of religion or caste.

•Justice Nariman referred to part of Article 29 (1) which says “any section of the citizens residing in the territory of India”. “And Tamil Nadu is definitely a part of India,” Justice Nariman remarked.

•Mr. Venugopal referred to the Supreme Court decision in the Ahmedabad St. Xavier's College Society case, in which it was pointed out that the scope of Article 29 (1) does not necessarily confine itself to the cultural rights of minorities but may well include the majority.

•The court is hearing a batch of petitions, led by People for Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), to quash the new jallikattu law passed by the Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly, which brought bulls back into the fold of “performing animals”.

•The laws under challenge — The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Tamil Nadu Amendment) Act of 2017 and Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Conduct of Jallikattu) Rules of 2017 — opened the gates for the conduct of the popular bull-taming sport in the name of culture and tradition despite a 2014 ban by the Supreme Court.

•In 2014, in the A. Nagaraja judgment, the Supreme Court held jallikattu as cruelty to bulls.

•The PETA petition contends that the 2017 Jallikattu Act and Rules violate the five internationally recognised freedoms — the freedom from hunger, malnutrition and thirst; freedom from fear and distress; freedom from physical and thermal discomfort; freedom from pain, injury and disease; and freedom to express normal patterns of behaviour.

📰 SC admits CPI(M)’s plea against electoral bonds

Plea says amendments made to Finance Act ‘jeopardises the very foundation of Indian democracy’

•The Supreme Court on Friday admitted a petition filed by the CPI(M) and party general secretary Sitaram Yechury to strike down the government’s Electoral Bond Scheme 2018 and amendments in the Finance Act, 2017, which allows for “unlimited donations from individuals and foreign companies to political parties without any record of the sources of funding”.

•A three-judge Bench led by Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra asked the Centre, the Ministry of Law and Justice and the Election Commission of India to respond to the writ petition filed under Article 32 of the Constitution by lawyers Raju Ramachandran and Shadaan Farasat. The admission of the case is an extraordinary relief for the party as Article 32 petitions are confined to private individuals.

•The petition submits that the amendments made in the Finance Act “jeopardises the very foundation of Indian democracy.”

•“The introduction of electoral bonds by the Finance Act by which details of donations made to political parties are not reported or recorded by the parties and whose purchasers identity remain hidden from the public realm is the creation of an obscure funding system which is unchecked by any authority,” the petition contended.

•The petition said that the requirement of disclosure of electoral bonds, the names and addresses of their contributors in the account statement of political parties is omitted by the amendment to the Representation of the People Act of 1951.

•Further, the petition said the system of corporate donations has been made correspondingly “secretive by removing the requirement of disclosure of the names of political parties to whom contributions have been made by amendment to the Companies Act, 2003.”

•“In effect, at both ends of the transaction, neither the contributor nor the recipient of the fund is required to disclose the identity of the other... Quid pro quo arrangements, not unknown to Indian polity, will only be strengthened,” the petition said.

•The amendment to the Companies Act results in the removal of any ceiling on the amount for donation by a company to a political party. It allows a company to be eligible as a political contributor regardless of whether the company is making profits or losses.

•Challenging the passage of the amendments as a Money Bill, the petition recalls the words of the Finance Minister that the changes in laws were meant to introduce transparency and reduce the usage of black money in financing political parties. But the electoral bond scheme is “vague, arbitrary and a violation of the fundamental right to information.”

•Instead of incentivising political party contributors to forego black money, the scheme actually allows them to continue to bury their unaccounted wealth with political parties, the petition said.

📰 Bhutan opens consulate in Guwahati

Bhutan has had a consulate in Kolkata for years besides a High Commission in New Delhi.

•Bhutan on Friday became the second country after Bangladesh to open a consulate in Guwahati.

•Bangladesh had in May last year established a consular office headed by an assistant high commissioner, underlining the city’s growing reputation as a trade and connectivity hub of a region of 45.6 million people.

•“Bhutan’s diplomatic relationship with Assam precedes that with India, and history refers to cordial relationship between the kings of Bhutan and medieval Assam. It is thus apt for us to set up our second consulate here in Guwahati,” said Bhutan’s Foreign Minister Damcho Dorji, after inaugurating the consulate along with Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal.

•Bhutan has had a consulate in Kolkata for years besides a High Commission in New Delhi.

•“Bhutan’s social, cultural and economic ties with Assam are deep-rooted, and Guwahati has been a prime destination for Bhutanese traders, students and patients referred by our doctors to hospitals in India,” Mr. Dorji said.

•“Assam has also been a pilgrimage destination for Bhutanese Buddhists, justifying the Himalayan country’s focus on the State 50 years after Delhi and Thimphu established diplomatic ties on January 8, 1968,” he added.

New flight

•The Bhutanese Foreign Minister announced a Drukair flight between Bhutan and Singapore via Guwahati. Drukair or Royal Bhutan Airlines has been operating a periodic flight between Paro, Bhutan’s only international airport, and Bangkok via Guwahati.

•Mr. Sonowal hoped Bhutan would exploit the benefits of Delhi’s Act East Policy “just as we would like to increase our Gross National Happiness.”

•The Bhutan government is guided by the philosophical Gross National Happiness, an index used to measure the collective happiness and well-being of the population in that country.

•Bhutan Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay, who arrived on Thursday to attend the two-day Global Investors’ Summit from Saturday, had earlier said Bhutan would organise several programmes in India to celebrate the 50 years of friendship between the two countries.

📰 Scorpene submarine programme makes progress

Khanderi is expected to complete sea trials by the middle of this year

•The second Scorpene submarine Khanderi is expected to complete sea trials by the middle of this year, while the fourth and the fifth submarines, under construction at Mazagon Dock Limited, Mumbai, are expected to be assembled later this year. The third submarine Karanj was launched into water early this week.

•“Khanderi is undergoing extensive trials, including deep dive trials. The fourth and fifth Scorpene submarines are to be booted up this year,” a senior officer said on Friday.

•‘Boot Together’ is a process wherein five separate sections are welded to put a submarine together.

Technology transfer

•Khanderi, which was launched in January 2017, is expected to complete all trials by the middle of this year, subject to the Monsoon and will be ready for induction. MDL is manufacturing six Scorpene submarines under technology transfer from Naval Group of France under a 2005 contract worth $3.75 bn. The first of the class, INS Kalvari, joined service in December last year.

•Meanwhile, the just launched Karanj has to undergo rigorous harbour and sea acceptance trails after which it would be commissioned into service.

•“Karanj will join the Navy next year. The fourth Scorpene is expected to be launched into water next year,” the officer added.

•The Scorpene class is the Navy’s first modern conventional submarine series in almost two decades since INS Sindhushastra which was procured from Russia in July 2000.

•Meanwhile, the Navy is drawing up plans to install Air Independent Propulsion (AIP) modules on all the Scorpene submarines when they go for normal refit six years after their induction.

📰 Foolproof e-way bill urged after deferment

Centre to reintroduce measure in ‘next few weeks’: Adhia

•A day after the Centre deferred February 1 rollout of the e-way bill in the wake of ‘technological glitches’ that left trucks stranded for hours across the country, transporters urged the Centre to fix all issues before introducing the measure.

•“We have raised several issues with the GST Commissioner and we hope the government addresses them first rather than implementing without preparedness,” said Abhishek Gupta, Treasurer, Bombay Goods Transport Association.

•“Lakhs of trucks were stranded across the country and many companies and truckers were not aware of the decision,” he said, referring to the government’s decision, late on Thursday, to suspend the rollout. The e-way bill portal had crashed on Thursday leaving transporters waiting in vain for hours to generate the bills.

‘Back to normal’

•“Today things are back to normal,” said Ramesh Agarwal, Chairman, Agarwal Movers Group. “Government took a wise decision to put it [ rollout] on hold. Otherwise by Saturday lots of factories would have closed down,” he said.

•The Centre’s use of twitter to announce the decision added to the confusion.

•“It will take time in India to accept information disseminated through twitter,” said Devendra Patne, CEO,, a transport industry initiative. “Lots of people did not give credence to it and waited for logging into the portal.”

•S.R. Hatti, VP of VRL Logistics in Bengaluru, said the firm had started moving goods from Friday morning with normal invoices as all States were accepting them.

•Finance Secretary Hasmukh Adhia told PTI the measure would be reintroduced in the “next few weeks” after the system was fully ready.

📰 Lower minimum employment rule to spur jobs: leather sector

•The leather industry has welcomed the Budget proposal to cut the minimum period of employment.

•The new norms mandate 150 days as the minimum period of employment in the footwear and leather industry, as has been the case for the apparel sector. Earlier, it was 240 days.

•The move is aimed at creating new employment opportunities, Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said in his Budget speech.

•“The Centre has made these changes along with certain amendments to Employment Provident Fund Act to encourage employment of more women,” said Rafeeque M. Ahmed, president, All India Skin and Hide, Tanners and Merchants Association. “Earlier, this relaxation was available to the textile sector and the anomaly has been set right.”

•Panaruna Aqeel, vice chairman, Council for Leather Exports, said, “The extension of 25% reduced corporate tax to [firms] having turnover of up to ₹250 crore in FY17 will be immensely beneficial to the leather and footwear industry as about 90% of the industry is concentrated in the MSME segment.”

📰 Dust mitigation plan must for firms

Non-compliance of norms could lead to penalty

•The Environment Ministry has made it mandatory for companies seeking environment clearance to ensure that they put in place a dust mitigation plan.

•The requirements, specified in a gazette notification on January 25, say that roads leading to or at construction sites must be paved and black-topped. There could be no soil excavation without adequate dust mitigation measures in place. No loose soil, sand, construction waste could be left uncovered. A water sprinkling system was mandatory, and the measures taken should be prominently displayed at the construction site. Moreover, the grinding and cutting of building materials in open area were prohibited and no uncovered vehicles carrying construction material and waste would be permitted.

•The standards were developed by the Central Pollution Control Board as part of the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS), and will now empower the organisation to fine companies and agencies for not complying with norms.

•A study by the Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur and commissioned by the Delhi government reported, in 2015, that road dust, burning of biomass and municipal solid waste, constituted the lion’s share of the city’s air pollution.

Road dust, key villain

•Road dust contributed 56% of all PM10 pollution, while it was 38% for PM2.5.

•Another estimate by the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology, Pune had different numbers but still ranked dust as the major contributor — 52% — to the city’s PM10 load.

•Before PM2.5 became the focus of attention — for its role in lodging itself in the lungs and for being a key component of diesel emissions — dust was the key villain for a long time. Dust is a generic term for a vast mix of metals and non-metals — silicon, aluminium, titanium, manganese, copper, barium, antimony, selenium and zinc.

📰 TRAI calls for affordable broadband access

Policy must target $100 bn investments by 2022

•The new National Telecom Policy should aim at enabling wireless broadband access at affordable prices to 90% of the population while attracting investments worth $100 billion by 2022, telecom regulator TRAI said on Friday.

•In its recommendations on the objectives, mission and vision for the new policy, the regulator said the policy should aim at creating two million additional jobs in the ICT sector by 2022.

•The recommendations follow a DoT letter in August last year, requesting the authority to give its policy inputs for formulation of National Telecom Policy 2018, post which discussions were held with stakeholders, including telecom service providers (TSPs), equipment manufacturers, IT companies and content providers. The government aims to finalise the NTP 2018 by March end.

•Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) said the policy, which it suggested should be called the ‘Information and Communication Technology Policy 2018’, should put in place an ombudsman-based consumer grievance redressal mechanism by end of 2018.

•Other objectives recommended include simplifying licensing and regulatory frameworks, rationalising taxes, levies and related compliances by 2019, putting in place a flexible, robust data protection regime powered by a strong encryption policy by 2019 and establishing a policy framework for facilitating setting up of data centres by 2019.

•Rajan Mathews, Director General at COAI said it “strongly supports” suggestions on simplifying the licensing and regulatory frameworks and expects that the same would be done this year itself. “We hope that the simplification of compliance includes reduction in the multiple audits, which will save the cost and efforts of the operators,” he said.

•Pointing out that to achieve the targets recommended by the regulator, huge investments would be required by the TSPs, COAI said there was a need for creating “a stable, predictable, innovation and investment-friendly regulatory and policy environment”.

•The regulator also highlighted the need for formulating a strategy to attract investments worth $60 billion into the sector by 2020 and $100 billion by 2022 and leapfrog into the top-50 nations in international rankings.

•TRAI, in its recommendations, said the objective of the policy would also be to provide 1Gbps data connectivity to all gram panchayats to enable wireless broadband services to inhabitants by 2022.

•Further, the policy should look at setting up two million public WLANs, including Wi-Fi hotspots, in the country by 2020 and five million by 2022. One of the objectives should also be to enable access for connecting to one million Internet of Things/Machine-to-Machine sensors/devices by 2020 and five million by 2022.

•TRAI also made a case for establishing by 2019 a single window clearance mechanism, via online centralised platform, for providing Right of Way permission.

📰 Centre’s plan may boost farmers’ solar power use

Under ₹1.4 lakh-cr. KUSUM, excess power can be sold to grid

•The Centre has announced a ₹1.4 lakh-crore scheme for promoting decentralised solar power production of up to 28,250 MW to help farmers, according to R. K. Singh, Minister of State for Power and New and Renewable Energy.

•The Centre will spend ₹48,000 crore on the ten-year scheme which was announced in the Union Budget 2018-19. Kisan Urja Suraksha evam Utthaan Mahaabhiyan or KUSUM scheme would provide extra income to farmers, by giving them an option to sell additional power to the grid through solar power projects set up on their barren lands, the Minister said.

•It would help in de-dieselising the sector as also the DISCOMS, he said.

•India had about 30 million farm pumps that include 10 million pumps running on diesel.

‘Positive outcomes’

•The Minister said the positive outcomes that are expected when the scheme is fully implemented across the country include promotion of decentralised solar power production, reduction of transmission losses as well as providing support to the financial health of DISCOMs by reducing the subsidy burden to the agriculture sector. The scheme would also promote energy efficiency and water conservation and provide water security to farmers.

•The components of the scheme include building 10,000 MW solar plants on barren lands and providing sops to DISCOMS to purchase the electricity produced, ‘solarising’ existing pumps of 7250 MW as well as government tube wells with a capacity of 8250 MW and distributing 17.5 lakh solar pumps.

•The 60% subsidy on the solar pumps provided to farmers will be shared between the Centre and the States while 30% would be provided through bank loans. The balance cost has to be borne by the farmers.