The HINDU Notes – 20th February 2018 - VISION

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Tuesday, February 20, 2018

The HINDU Notes – 20th February 2018

📰 Old friends: on India-Iran bilateral ties

India must maintain its steady course of strengthening ties with Iran

•In purely bilateral terms, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s visit to Indiawas pitch perfect in content and optics. After his meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, India and Iran signed agreements and memorandums of understanding on a wide variety of issues. Among the announcements was the decision to award India the contract to operate the Chabahar Shahid Beheshti port terminal after the project is completed. While no announcement was made on the Farzad-B gas field that India has expressed an interest in, the joint statement indicates that positive deliberations may follow. There were discussions on enhancing trade and investment and ease of doing business between India and Iran, including a double taxation avoidance agreement and an expert group to recommend “trade remedy measures”. Just before Mr. Rouhani’s visit, India announced it would allow Indian investment in Iran to be done in rupee terms. The concession, which has so far been extended only to Bhutan and Nepal, allows money lying in Indian banks as payment for imports from Iran, mostly oil, to be repatriated. Till now these funds have been blocked because international banks and insurance companies refuse to facilitate trade to Iran fearing further U.S. sanctions on Iranian entities. In turn, Iran is understood to have reversed last year’s decision to slash the credit period for oil payments from India, and issue more generous guidelines.

•Mr. Modi and Mr. Rouhani also drew broad strokes highlighting the importance of bilateral ties between the two countries, stressing the strategic imperative for their growth. Mr. Modi called the talks “substantive and productive”, while thanking Mr. Rouhani for his leadership on regional connectivity. Mr. Rouhani endorsed India’s bid for a permanent seat at the UN Security Council with the veto, and praised India as a “living museum of religious diversity”. The joint statement issued contained tough language on the “sanctuaries for terrorism”, an issue important to both countries. But there is a broader global context to Mr. Rouhani’s visit and the red carpet rolled out by the Modi government. The visit came amid uncertainty over the U.S.’s next move on Iran, given the Trump administration’s line on the Iran nuclear deal. On the very day Mr. Modi and Mr. Rouhani met, U.S. National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster asked countries to track their investments in Iran as these might be supporting terrorism and “murder across the Middle East”. It will be important to see what, if any, implications the Indian overtures would have on India’s ties with the U.S. and its recently upgraded relations with Israel. However, it is crucial that India maintain a steady course on its strategic interests with Iran, a key source of energy, and as Mr. Modi put it, a “golden gateway” to Afghanistan and Central Asia.

📰 A Nepal-India win-win

The new Prime Minister in Kathmandu needs a hands-off New Delhi to ensure mutually beneficial stability and growth

•Without doubt, like every nation-state, India seeks its own advantage in international relationships, including within the South Asian region. But the repeated experience is that of New Delhi generating animosities, with attitudes and actions that go against its own interests. This forces one to ask from nearby Kathmandu, is there a structural issue with India’s foreign affairs oversight — or is this question itself taboo?

•Take the case of Nepal, a country where friendship with India comes naturallyeven more than being a necessity, due to cultural, social and economic linkages over the open border. But, perhaps because of global preoccupations, New Delhi seems to constantly under-estimate Kathmandu’s fierce sense of self. The stratagem over the decades has been to try to influence Kathmandu’s politicos, forgetting that they too survive within the milieu of Nepali politics.

•The legacy of ‘big brother’ started with Jawaharlal Nehru — Nepal’s statesman B.P. Koirala in his memoir has pinpointed the precise moment in 1950 during a meeting at Teen Murti Bhavan when he realised that the fellow-revolutionary was now transformed as Prime Minister of India, inheriting the geopolitical inclinations of the departed colonialist.

The big stick

•More recently, India became progressively interventionist as Nepal got mired in internal crisis during and after the Maoist ‘people’s war’, and as the hill-plain polarisation escalated during the constitution-writing. India has tended to speak loudly while wielding a big stick, based on a sense of entitlement and exceptionalism. But evidently, Indian nationalism for all its vigour cannot suppress nationalism across the frontier.

•While there are of course numerous domestic factors, a key reason for political instability in Nepal has been India’s overt and covert intercessions. This involvement explains in part why Nepal has not had a Prime Minister in office for more than a year-and-a-half over two decades now. Meanwhile, Indian analysts fail to appreciate how political stability in Nepal can deliver economic bounty to the bordering Indian States on its three sides. And economists should study the Pew Research Center figures showing Nepal as one of the larger sources of remittances to India, that too to the poorest regions such as north Bihar, east Uttar Pradesh and Odisha.

•India is understandably apprehensive as the Chinese geoeconomic juggernaut infiltrates the Subcontinental countries, including Nepal. Rather than imperious warnings against consorting with Beijing, however, better to leave each society to develop its own method on dealing with China. In the case of Nepal, the arrival of the Qinghai-Tibet Railway at the northern border point in 2020 will be a game-changer, and the Indian market too is set to benefit.

•With Khadga Prasad Sharma Oli sworn in as Prime Minister on February 15, there is now opportunity to start afresh on India-Nepal. It is true that India has never had as adversarial a Prime Minister in Kathmandu as Mr. Oli, but this is mainly the result of New Delhi’s own short-sightedness.

•Mr. Oli has been a moderate (if loquacious) politician who does not bend easily to populist pressures, but it fell on him during his previous term to stand up to the devastating Great Blockade of 2015.

•It became his job to rally a populace under humanitarian distress and seek connectivity northward through a set of 10 agreements with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing.

•Tagging Mr. Oli as ‘anti-Indian’ is not sensible, for being ‘pro-Nepal’ does not ipso facto mean animosity towards India. And New Delhi may be surprised to find Mr. Oli more than willing to reciprocate its overtures, providing reassurance that Kathmandu will never act against India’s security interests, while insisting that in all areas Nepal will take its own decisions. Nepal’s politicians are masters at realpolitik, and the art of balancing India vis-à-vis China is not outside of Mr. Oli’s personal skill-set.

Desire for harmony

•Thankfully, it does look like India is seeking a recalibration, and no one is asking for a public apology. The desire for rapprochement is seen in the three phone conversations Prime Minister Narendra Modi has had with Mr. Oli since December, and the dispatch of Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj to Kathmandu before the new government was even formed.

•Nepal’s topmost politicos, who never seem to retire, have got so used to revolving-door leadership that they are finding it hard to stomach the five-year term that the new government will probably get. On the other hand, the people’s expectation is that the longevity will ipso facto make for better governance.

•Mr. Oli’s ascendance to prime-ministership marks the final turn of the key in implementing the Constitution of Nepal (2015), which was adopted despite India’s fervent lobbying. The promulgation marks an end to the extended derailment of the last two decades, with numerous tragedies from the Maoists ‘people’s war’ to the Great Blockade.

•Nepal is now a federal and secular republic, experimenting with three levels of fully empowered government — central, provincial and local. But there is confusion on the division of powers between the tiers, and foot-dragging by the national bureaucracy and many powerful politicians, besides an untested Constitutional Bench of the Supreme Court.

Ensuring inclusion

•Mr. Oli inherits the share-the-spoils bhagbanda politics of the transitional years, which has left the police, bureaucracy and judiciary politicised. The decay in each sphere cries out for reform, from the private sector cartels that control the economy to corruption that has seeped to the village terraces.

•The central socio-political task is to ensure inclusion in governance, giving the Janjati ethnicities as well as the Madhesi plains people and others a feeling of ownership of the state. While seeking to restore Nepal’s position internationally, Mr. Oli has to implement the connectivity agreements he signed with Beijing in 2015, while lifting the relationship with India above the patron-supplicant status. He will have his hands full trying to raise employment through tourism, industry, agroforestry and agriculture, ensuring energy self-sufficiency through hydro projects and rescuing the post-earthquake reconstruction effort, which has been a scandal. With international assistance in decline, investors have to be attracted by the promise of the rule of law and due process if Nepal is not to remain the playground of carpetbaggers.

•Speaking of the rule of law, the human rights community is worried that the ongoing truth and reconciliation process might be used as a sham exercise to pardon wartime atrocities. With Nepal recently elected to the UN Human Rights Council, there is opportunity to raise Nepal’s international profile while finally putting the ‘people’s war’ behind us all.

•Mr. Oli is fortunate that the new Constitution ensures extended tenure, by not allowing a no-confidence vote for the first two years. Besides, he rides a strong public mandate, having led the Left Alliance in its sweep of the local, provincial and national elections and forming governments at each tier. The field is also clear because the parties representing the Hindutva ideology and the deposed king, Gyanendra, were roundly defeated at all levels.

Reaching out

•Mr. Oli’s primary preoccupation will be managing the government’s relationship with the opposition. The atmospherics between his Communist Party of Nepal (UML) and the Nepali Congress (NC) are at their worst, the latter sullen and vulnerable after the trouncing at the polls. He must reach out to build a working relationship with the NC and the Madhesbaadi plains-based parties, also because hundreds of new laws need to be urgently drafted under the Constitution.

•The Prime Minister’s immediate challenge, however, has to do with Pushpa Kamal Dahal (‘Prachanda’), his Maoist partner in the Left Alliance. Mr. Dahal prefers to ignore the reality that his party was rescued from decimation by the electoral bonding with the UML. The voters gave him a respectable showing, hoping that the promised unification would subsume the Maoists within the UML, helping finally to neutralise the former.

•As this is being written, the two parties are preparing a unification document. Meanwhile, bargaining for plum posts, Mr. Dahal is demanding an alopalo, rotating prime-ministership. This would mean a jump back to bhagbandapolitics, endangering both stability and growth, dishonouring the electoral mandate.

•Prime Minister Oli is tasked today to land Mr. Dahal where he can do no further harm to Nepal’s state and society, and to reset the relationship with India at a new normal. On the latter, he seems keen to take the olive branch held out by Mr. Modi, which can only result in a ‘win-win’ for Nepal and India.

📰 Khalistan casts shadow over Trudeau visit

Canadian PM is perceived as going soft on extremist Sikh elements and failing to consider India’s sensitivities

•The Khalistan issue, which kept India-Canada ties on ice through three decades from 1980, has resurfaced, taking away much of the warmth that was expected during Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s ongoing visit to India.

•Former diplomats say the seeds for the current tensions have been sown since Mr. Trudeau came to power in 2015, receiving widespread support from some of the most extreme Khalistani political groups, and has repeatedly failed to take into account the sensitivities in India over the past when Sikh terror groups received support from elements in Canada.

Khalsa Day parade

•A major breaking point came last April when Mr. Trudeau attended a “Khalsa day” parade organised by one of the more radical gurudwaras in Toronto.

•At the time, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) made it clear that India’s protest had been taken up with the Canadian government.

•Among other disturbing issues was the felicitation at the parade of a politician responsible for a resolution in the Ontario assembly that accused India of “genocide” during the 1984 anti-Sikh riots, a vote that India had also protested strongly.

•In addition, floats at the parade depicted Sikh militant leaders Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, Amreek Singh and former General Shahbeg Singh — who were killed in the siege of the Golden Temple and Operation Bluestar in June 1984 — as heroes.

•“The visit to the Khalsa Day parade was a no-no for Canadian PMs for at least a decade, and we may be back to the drawing board on this issue,” former Ambassador to Canada Vishnu Prakash told The Hindu , adding that Prime Minister Trudeau “has been left in no doubt on India’s concerns on the issue, and they have been taken up at the highest levels.”

•Issues over the growth of Sikh extremist groups, especially those seeking a “referendum 2020” for the worldwide Sikh diaspora to vote on an “Independent Khalistan”, have been raised several times in the past few years, officials told The Hindu , including when former Defence Minister Arun Jaitley met with Canadian Defence Minister Harjit Singh Sajjan.

•Mr. Modi is understood to have spoken to Mr. Trudeau on the issue when the leaders met at the G-20 summit in Hamburg in July 2017, and in Manila on the sidelines of the East Asia summit.

•To add to the tensions, 16 Canadian gurudwaras announced a “ban” last month on the entry of Indian elected officials, consular officials, RSS and Shiv Sena members. The Trudeau government took no action in response to the decision. When asked, officials cited “freedom of expression” issues.

Controversial Ministers

•Another sore point on the current visit has been Mr. Trudeau’s insistence on including Ministers in his cabinet accused of sympathising with the Khalistan movement — Mr. Sajjan and Navdeep Singh Bains — on his visit to Amritsar. Last year, Chief Minister Amarinder Singh had refused to meet these ministers calling them “Khalistanis”.

📰 New Zealand defence chief raises India’s role in IOR

Lt. Gen. Keating to meet Defence Minister, security officials

•As India expands its influence in southeast Asia and the Indian Ocean Region, New Zealand’s Chief of DefenceForce Lt. Gen. Tim Keating has sought clarity on a probable military component to New Delhi’s ‘Act East’ policy.

•In an exclusive interview to The Hindu, Lt. Gen. Keating, currently on a visit to India, said, “We want to understand as India grows, how it intends to grow its influence militarily both regionally and near region. What does ‘Act East’ mean? We can see that economically and politically. But does that have a military element? From a military strategic point getting that understanding whether there are common interests and how they can be managed is important for us.”

Role of the Quad

•Lt. Gen. Keating also queried the objectives of the recently resurrected quadrilateral (Quad) comprising India, Australia, Japan and the U.S. New Zealand has always balanced its relations with the U.S. and China.

•He observed that the Quad need not necessarily be a military agreement at this stage but four large influential nations developing a common policy framework to various opportunities and potential threats in the region.

•Asked if New Zealand would be interested in joining the grouping at some point, Lt. Gen. Keating said, “There is lot of clarity to be gained about what Quad is. What does it mean to the four individual nations…. I will be very interested to engage my Indian counterparts to see what Quad means to them and put a question — do they see a role for New Zealand?”

•Last year on the sidelines of the East Asia Summit in Manila, the Quad countries had discussed reviving the decade old grouping, seen by China as an attempt to contain it. The developments follow China’s rapidly increasing military presence in the Indian Ocean and the expansion of dual use facilities and infrastructure by Beijing under its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

Common interests

•Lt. Gen. Keating noted that while India and New Zealand are far away geographically, they have common interests.

•During his visit, Lt Gen Keating will hold discussions with senior members of the security establishment including Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, National Security Advisor Ajit Doval, Army Chief Gen. Bipin Rawat and Chairman Chief of Staff Committee Adm. Sunil Lanba.

📰 Maldives president seeks extension to state of emergency

•The state of emergency in Maldives was on Monday extended by 30 days after a key parliamentary committee approved President Abdulla Yameen’s request, a media report said.

•During an extraordinary meeting of the National Security Committee of the People’s Majlis, approval was given to the Decree for State of Emergency submitted to the Parliament by Mr. Yameen, The Sun online reported.

•Deputy Speaker of People’s Majlis, Moosa Manik, confirmed that the decree was approved during a closed-door meeting.

•A total of 38 MPs voted to accept the decree and forwarded it to the National Security Committee for evaluation. All Opposition MPs boycotted the sitting.

•At least 43 MPs needed to be present in order for the decree to pass, the report said.

📰 ‘Intolerance in India affects Bangladesh’

Information Minister Hasanul Haq Inu seeks closer security cooperation between the two neighbours

•Religious intolerance in India affects Bangladesh, said Hasanul Haq Inu, the country’s Minister of Information, on Monday.

•“Bangladesh and India are unique as the (largest) minority community of India is the majority community of Bangladesh and violence against the minority community in India creates spill-over effects,” said Mr. Inu at a conference for media professionals organised by a think tank.

•Mr. Inu is known to be a strong proponent of secular politics and has called repeatedly for elimination of all fundamentalism in his country.

‘Secular principles’

•“Our country began on the path of secular democratic principles. During the military rule in Dhaka, our rulers had imposed the Pakistani model on this country.

•“India also began on the secular path. But now South Asia is dealing with the grip of religious fundamentalism,” he said, coming down on religious fundamentalism of all shades in South Asia.

•Mr. Inu, a veteran of the 1971 Liberation War who worked closely with Sheikh Mujibur Rahman after the birth of his country, also said that national identities are greater than communal divides in South Asian countries and governments should foster that.

•“Under the two nation-theory, communal politics grew. But we made a beginning on the basis of language identity beyond the communal differences,” he said.

•Mr. Inu reminded India that Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina had delivered on her promises by cracking down on terrorism and urged India to deliver on the pending promises of sharing of Teesta’s waters.

•“We have issues of water and business. These should be addressed for the sake of development of both countries,” he said, urging a closer cooperation between the two sides on business and security.

📰 Raje drops Bill shielding public servants

•Takes it back from select panel; Ordinance had lapsed in Dec.

•Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje on Monday announced the withdrawal of a controversial Bill, which aimed at giving protection to public servants and imposed restrictions on the media, from a select committee of the Assembly. The Bill was referred to the committee for its review following all-round criticism.

•Ms. Raje said in the Assembly while replying to the debate on the State budget that the Criminal Laws (Rajasthan Amendment) Ordinance, 2017, promulgated on September 6, 2017, had automatically lapsed in December following the tabling of Bill in the House.

•“When no such legislation exists, there is no point in calling it a black law,” the Chief Minister said while announcing that it was being taken back from the select committee of the House.

•The controversial Ordinance, which created a nationwide uproar, had provided immunity to serving and retired public servants, judges and magistrates from probe and prosecution on complaints about their alleged offences without prior sanction by the authorities. It also barred the media from reporting on such accusations till sanction was given.

•The Bill seeking to replace the Ordinance, introduced in the Assembly on October 23, 2017, was referred to the select committee. It was also challenged in the Rajasthan High Court.

•Meanwhile, Pradesh Congress president Sachin Pilot said it should have been done long ago as there could be no justification for the enactment of such a law that struck at the very roots of democracy.

📰 ‘No info from Centre on Naga pact’

Govt. asserts it won’t accept inclusion of State’s territory in proposed Nagalim

•The Assam government on Monday said it had not received any communication from the Centre on the Naga Framework Agreement and asserted that it would not accept the inclusion of the State’s territory in the proposed Nagalim or Greater Nagaland.

•In a written reply to a query from AGP legislator Ramendra Narayan Kalita, State Parliamentary Affairs Minister Chandra Mohan Patowary said that the BJP government in the State had not received any official intimation from the Centre on the Naga pact.

•The State government has not contacted the Centre as there has been no official communication on the Naga Framework Agreement

📰 Plea seeks protection for ECs from removal

•The Supreme Court on Monday asked the Centre and the Election Commission of India to file their responses on a plea pointing out the vagueness in the procedure for the removal of two Election Commissioners.

Different views

•According to the petition this affects the top poll body’s autonomy.

•A Bench led by Chief Justice Dipak Misra asked the Centre to file its response when Attorney-General K.K. Venugopal informed the court that he and the government may hold different views on the issue.

•Mr. Venugopal, whose assistance was sought by the apex court in the previous hearing on December 1 last year, said it would be better if the court separately asked the government about its stand.

•The court gave the Centre and the top poll body four weeks to file their replies.

📰 NIA expands Khalistan probe

Agency looking for inputs from U.K., Australia, UAE, Italy and Pakistan

•The National Investigation Agency (NIA) has expanded its investigation into the revival of the pro-Khalistan movement in Punjab to countries such as the U.K., Australia, the UAE, Italy and Pakistan.

•A Home Ministry official said that though the involvement of pro-Khalistan activists based in Canada had not surfaced in the particular case being investigated by the NIA, there were intelligence inputs that established so.

•On November 30 last year, on the Punjab government’s request, the Home Ministry handed over the probe into the murder of RSS member Ravinder Gosain in Ludhiana to the NIA.

•The agency said Gosain’s murder and targeted killings of eight others from January 2016 were “part of a conspiracy to destabilise Punjab hatched by Sikh extremist elements and others located in various parts of the world.”

•The Punjab police had arrested Ramandeep Singh and Hardeep Singh for their alleged role in Gosain’s murder.

•The accused were handed over to the NIA. The agency said the accused were asked to target members of the RSS and Hindu organisations. “Besides, in July 2017, they also murdered a pastor named Sultan Masih in Ludhiana,” the agency had said.

Foreign funds

•The NIA said funds were channelled from foreign countries for execution of these incidents.

•The official said the accused were brainwashed and were incited on religious grounds by their mentors settled abroad. On February 14, the NIA arrested an accused identified as Parvez, alias Farru, from Meerut in Uttar Pradesh.

Eleven arrested

•It said Parvez provided the weapons in several of the eight incidents committed as part of an “international conspiracy whose objective was to destabilise the law and order situation in Punjab and to revive militancy in the State”.

•So far, 11 persons have been arrested. The Home Ministry informed Parliament on December 27 that Pakistan’s ISI was making efforts to provide “moral and financial support” to pro-Khalistan elements for anti-India activities as well as to revive militancy in Punjab.

•Intelligence agencies were in a fix last year when Canadian Defence Minister Harjeet Sajjan visited India. Officials said there were inputs regarding Mr. Sajjan’s soft approach to pro-Khalistan activists in Canada.

📰 CBI books head of Rotomac pens for Rs. 3,695 crore default

Wife, son also named; officials of seven lending banks under the scanner

•The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has booked Kanpur-based firm Rotomac Global Private Limited and its directors Vikram Kothari, his wife and son in an alleged Rs. 3,695 crore “wilful” loan default case. The Enforcement Directorate is also launching a money laundering probe into fund-diversion charges against the accused.

•While the Kotharis are being questioned, officials of the seven public sector banks that have lent to the firm have also come under the scanner. The FIR was registered days after alleged fraudulent transactions worth Rs. 11,500 crore were detected in the Punjab National Bank.

•The Rotomac pen case was registered late on Sunday night after the Bank of Baroda lodged a complaint with the CBI alleging cheating, fraud and corruption.

Offices sealed

•In the early hours of Monday, the officials of the CBI raided the Kanpur premises of Mr. Kothari, his wife Sadhana and son Rahul Kothari. The company’s Delhi office was sealed.

•Since 2008-09, Rotomac and other associated companies had taken a loan of Rs. 2,919 crore from a consortium of banks led by the Bank of India.

•The other lenders are Bank of Baroda, Indian Overseas Bank, Union Bank of India, Allahabad Bank, Bank of Maharashtra and the Oriental Bank of Commerce.

•However, it is alleged that the directors cheated the banks by siphoning off the funds, in conspiracy with certain bank officials.

•The agency also alleged that the company had submitted forged and false documents to get the credit facilities from banks.

📰 Punjab to install micro ATMs in co-op institutions across the State

•To deliver effective core banking services at the village level, the Punjab government plans to install micro ATMs in all its 3,535 primary agricultural cooperative societies and district central cooperative banks under its rural financial inclusion plan.

•Additional Chief Secretary-cum-Financial Commissioner (Cooperation) D.P. Reddy on Monday said NABARD has accepted a proposal sent by the cooperative department to extend the digital transaction facilities to the rural populace and sanctioned 4,545 micro ATMs by financing 90% of the cost of the device.

•He said the Punjab State Cooperative Bank was providing credit services to all sections of society since its establishment in 1949 and was now making great strides towards fulfilling the aspirations of its stakeholders, especially tillers and helping hands in all areas such as agriculture, housing, sugar production and dairy.

Benefits galore

•Outlining the benefits of the micro ATMs, Mr. Reddy said all transaction facilities like balance enquiry checking, cash deposit or withdrawal, fund transfer and remittance could be made through these hand-held devices.

•“Farmers using other banks’ ATMs for Kisan Credit Card purpose could use these micro ATMs at PACSs thereby saving inter-bank transactional costs to be paid to other banks. In addition, customers could use any other bank’s debit card at these locations and will no longer have to search for ATMs or travel long distances,” he said.

•He said after implementation of these core banking facilities, farmers would be able to get fertilizers and seeds from the nearest PACS by swiping the KCC card at the micro ATMs.

•“These ATMs allow the PACSs and branches to connect to the bank’s core banking solution to authenticate the customer via biometric or PIN on real-time basis,” he added.

📰 PM calls for re-skilling existing workforce

Inaugurates WCIT 2018 through video-conferencing

•The World Congress on Information Technology (WCIT 2018) or the ‘Olympics of IT’, coming to India for the first time, got under way on Monday with Prime Minister Narendra Modi emphasising on re-skilling of existing workforce in the backdrop of emergence of new technologies.

•“Skilling citizens for the workplace of the future is important. We also need to ensure that our existing workforce is able to re-skill as new technologies emerge,” he said, inaugurating the event held in Hyderabad, through video-conferencing. Besides the WCIT, the three-day event comprises the Nasscom India Leadership Forum. “We need to reflect on changing nature of jobs in the emerging age of intelligent automation,” he said, pointing to how disruptive technologies such as Blockchain and IoT (Internet of Things) would have “deep impact in the way we live and work. They will require rapid adaptation in our workplaces.” Earlier, the Prime Minister unveiled FutureSkills platform, a Nasscom initiative to upskill 2 million technology professionals in India.

•Utilising the forum to highlight the digital strides made, the Prime Minister said India is the hotspot of digital innovation across all sectors. The country not only has a growing number of innovative entrepreneurs, but is also a growing market for tech innovation. “India is best placed to leverage the power of technology and leap-frog into the future while ensuring empowerment of every citizen.”

•“We were and will be one of the most tech-friendly population in the world. With over 1 lakh villages linked with optical fibre, 121 crore mobile phones, 120 crore Aadhaar and 50 crore internet users, India is best placed to leverage the power of technology and leap-frog into the future,” he declared.

•“Technology has transcended power point presentation and has become an inseparable part of people’s lives,” he said, adding Digital India has graduated beyond being a government initiative to one that has become a way of life. The JAM trinity of combining 320 million bank accounts of poor with Aadhaar and mobile with direct benefits of welfare measures has saved ₹57,000 crore, he said.

•“Digital India is a journey bringing about digital inclusion for digital empowerment aided by digital infrastructure for digital delivery of services. Leveraging technology in such a holistic manner was unthinkable some years ago. We have successfully completed this life cycle in last three-and-a-half years... possible through a change in public behaviour and processes,” Mr. Modi said. Convergence between programmes has also happened, he said, with make in India “from only 2 mobile [phone] manufacturing units in India in 2014, today there are 118 units operational in India, including some of the best global brands.”

•Stating that technology is becoming enabler of the deeply imbibed Indian philosophy of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam, he said if used well for public good technology can deliver lasting prosperity to mankind and sustainable future for the planet.

📰 Govt. seeks RBI view on system faults

•The Finance Ministry has sought the Reserve Bank’s view on the lapses in the banking system that led to the ₹11,500 crore fraud at the Punjab National Bank and steps required to check recurrence of such incidents, sources said.

•Department of Financial Services has written a letter to the RBI to explain the shortcomings in the system which let the fraud to go undetected for 7 years, they said.

•The letter also seeks the regulator’s advice on what system and processes need to be updated so that such frauds are prevented, sources added.

•Besides, the Ministry has also sought RBI’s view on failure of auditors to detect fraud that has been going on since 2011.

📰 Consider privatising public sector banks: FICCI to govt.

Recapitalisation efforts have had little effect: Rashesh Shah

•Industry body FICCI has called for privatisation of public sector banks (PSBs), saying that the recapitalisation efforts by the government have had little effect on improving their health.

‘Pressure on finances’

•“Given the continuous pressure on the government finances on account of the weak performance of the banks, the government should consider privatisation of PSBs,” FICCI president Rashesh Shah said in a statement. This would reduce the drain on the exchequer and the money saved could be used for developmental schemes and programmes of the government.” “A dynamic banking sector is the need of the hour and we should examine if there is at all a case for public sector domination in the banking sector,” he added. “FICCI firmly believes that the recapitalisation of PSBs alone is not a permanent solution and will not be effective unless the inherent issues related to governance, productivity, risk management, talent, customer service, etc. are resolved.”

•Mr. Shah’s statement follows the government announcement last October of a ₹2.11 lakh crore recapitalisation plan for PSBs, of which ₹88,000 crore is scheduled for this financial year. Of this, ₹80,000 crore is to come through bonds and a little more than ₹8,000 crore through budgetary support this financial year.

•In an interview to The Hindu, Chief Economic Adviser Arvind Subramanian had also stressed the need to shrink unproductive public sector banks and move forward with increasing private sector participation in the banking sector.

•“If you want this cycle not to repeat itself again, some of the unviable banks have to be credibly shrunk and [former] Governor of Reserve Bank Y.V. Reddy had good ideas on that,” Mr. Subramanian had said. “The second thing is that we have to have more private sector majority participation.”

•“The public-sector banks, which constitute almost 70% of the Indian bankingsystem, are saddled with burgeoning stressed assets,” Mr. Shah said. “The government has already injected over ₹2.6 lakh crore in the public-sector banks through recapitalisation in the last eleven years, which has had limited impact in improving the health of public sector banks thus far.”

📰 Bank bureau stares at uncertain future

‘Members’ terms end on March 31 this year and no indication yet on extension’

•The Banks Board Bureau (BBB) is facing an uncertain future with the tenure of its members coming to an end on March 31, 2018.

•“The term of all the members will come to end on 31 March. The government is yet to communicate if the terms will be extended or a new board will be formed,” said a person familiar with the development.

‘Reforming PSBs’

•The BBB was set up under the government’s Indradanush programme to reform public sector banks. It started operations in April 2016.

•The BBB was conceived by the PJ Nayak committee and was seen as a step taken towards reforming the boards of public sector banks. The committee, in its report, had recommended that the government should distance itself from the appointment process of top management and board members of PSBs — a function that could be performed by the BBB.

•However, in practise it never happened. While the BBB was involved in shortlisting and interviewing candidates — the final appointment was always made by the government.

•There were instances of delays in appointment by the government despite the BBB recommending it. The issue of governance and role of the board in public sector banks came to the fore again after the ₹11,500 crore PNB scam broke out last week.

•“As part of its mandate, and guided by a spirit of collaboration, the bureau is engaging with various stakeholders. The objective of such engagement being to help prepare the banks in the public sector universe to take on the competition…The bureau is also engaging with the public sector banks (PSBs) to help build capacity to attract, retain and nurture both talent and technology — the two key differentiators of business competencies in the days to come,” the BBB said on its website, referring to its task.

•Headed by former Comptroller and Auditor General Vinod Rai, BBB has representatives from government and RBI apart from independent banking professionals.

📰 Rajasthan to come up with vision document on nutrition

National Nutrition Mission will be implemented in 24 of the 33 districts in the State

•Rajasthan is gearing up for implementation of the National Nutrition Mission with a State Vision Document-2022 being formulated to ensure convergence of work by all stakeholders for improving nutrition levels of women and children and reducing undernutrition and low birth weight by 2% each year.

New strategies

•The NNM, approved by the Union Cabinet, will be implemented in 24 of the 33 districts in Rajasthan. A multi-sectoral State consultation, “Nourishing Rajasthan-2022”, here on Monday threw light on the strategies for addressing the issue of undernutrition and stunting.

•National Technical Board on Nutrition's member M.K. Bhan said the policies should be brought in sync with the changing needs of the society, while a lot more needed to be done on the quality front. “Women and children belonging to vulnerable sections need a direct intervention, for which new strategies should be adopted under the NNM,” he said.

•Rajasthan Chief Secretary N.C. Goel said the NNM framework would come handy for State officials to ensure proper development of human capital, which was earlier considered a burden. He laid emphasis on convergence among various departments, while affirming that the NNM's guidelines would enable the functionaries to formulate plans of action.

Crore beneficiaries

•More than 10 crore people in the country are expected to benefit from the NNM, which has set the target to reduce stunting from 38.4% as per the National Family Health Survey-4 to 25% by 2022.

•It will cover 235 districts in 2018-19 and the remaining districts in the next two years.

•UNICEF-Rajasthan chief Isabelle Bardem said the UN body would extend help and render assistance at all levels to make NNM a success. The 24 districts in the State have been selected on the basis of their previous track record and a number of indicators as well as empirical evidence which depicts a high degree of malnutrition among women and children.

•The nutrition-specific and nutrition-sensitive interventions will be made in Rajasthan in the realms of women and child development, health, food and public distribution, sanitation, drinking water, rural development, livelihoods, education and agriculture.

•State Women and Child Development Secretary Roli Singh said some of the key system-level barriers in the State were lack of knowledge among the frontline health workers, poor use of communication and counselling aids and limited efforts for complementary feeding to newborn babies.

📰 Fixing delivery: on direct benefit transfer in fertilizers

The efficiencies of the direct benefit transfer for fertilizer subsidies should be increasingly visible

•Across the hinterlands of the country, a silent revolution is taking place. Each time a farmer purchases fertilizersfrom a dealer, he/she presses his or her thumb at a point-of-sale (PoS) device and an authenticated receipt comes out giving details of the purchase and subsidy to be paid by the government directly to the manufacturer. The records of dealers are automatically updated and payment is made digitally or in cash. Farmers, especially those purchasing urea, who were facing constraints of availability and occasionally overcharged in the past, now receive it at a printed price with complete transparency. Welcome to the world of direct benefit transfer (DBT) in fertilizers.

The pilot project

•Unlike DBT in LPG where subsidy is directly transferred to the consumer’s bank, and in food where pilot projects of DBT replacing physical delivery of rations have taken place, DBT in fertilizer envisages transfer of subsidy to manufacturers upon authentication of purchase by farmers. This restricts diversion, prevents leakages, and brings about greater transparency, accountability and efficiency. Given the complex nature of fertilizer subsidies, with multiple producers and varying cost structures, this was perhaps the best option to begin with. The Standing Committee on Chemicals and Fertilizers (2016-17), in its 36th Action Taken Report, has recently emphasised that while implementing DBTs, subsidy should be disbursed directly to the farmer’s bank account. This requires serious consideration while Phase-I is implemented and stabilised.

•It’s a little over one year since the committee set up by NITI Aayog decided to roll out the pilot on DBT in fertilizers in 16 districts. Since then DBT in fertilizers has been rolled out in 19 States and Union Territories and 12 States are expected to come on board this month. In another three months, DBT in fertilizers is expected to expand its footprint in the entire country. These initiatives have been supplemented with allied processes set in motion by the Department of Fertilizers including appointment of 24 State DBT co-coordinators, and organising about 4,500 training sessions across India. Training videos are also placed on YouTube, and the comprehensive redress system in place is being expanded to a multilingual help desk.

•DBT in fertilizers has had its challenges. An important issue has been connectivity, like other IT-based initiatives, especially in rural areas. While this has been addressed through flexibility in choosing the connectivity option (Wifi, LAN, PSTN) or use of external antenna to improve signal strength, other options have also been considered. Developing the systems and sensitising all stakeholders to migrate to the new system was an arduous task but it was successfully implemented.

•A major concern is of some dealer attrition, which is probably on account of declining margins and reduced possibility of diversion or sale at a higher price. This would need to be addressed on priority, if necessary, by revising the dealer margins.

•An independent evaluation agency appointed by NITI Aayog conducted two rounds of surveys of the pilot districts to get ground-level feedback. In the latest round, they surveyed 5,659 farmers and 427 retailers across 14 districts in addition to government officials and stakeholders in six States. The key findings included: the Aadhaar authentication strike rate increased to as high as 97% in three attempts; 85% of farmers received transaction receipts, and 98% were charged the same amount as mentioned in the receipt; and the grievance redress mechanism has improved and 79% retailers are satisfied. Interestingly, despite initial challenges, a majority of farmers (and retailers) prefer the DBT system.

What lies ahead

•The challenges posed during implementation are being addressed in real time. Innovative solutions — such as making the application device agnostic so that retailers can use desktops, laptops, tablets, smartphones, etc. to run the application — are expected to help. The revamped toll-free number will soon allow conversations in regional languages. Reducing the waiting time for farmers purchasing fertilizers is important. While Aadhaar is the preferred form of identification of buyers, other forms of identification may also be used.

•As the pilot expands to more States, the efficiencies of the new system would be increasingly visible. The broad and overriding goal is to ensure that under no circumstances should any farmer be denied or refused the opportunity to purchase fertilizers.

📰 How regulation widens inequality

The unintended effects of entry regulation for new businesses

•While a few large business corporations earn billions of rupees in profits each year, millions of smaller businesses struggle for their survival. Seeing such massive inequality in the fortunes of businesses, many go on to believe that government regulation is a must to end the domination of big businesses and encourage the growth of smaller ones. Such sentiments are common when it comes to the tech industry which is dominated by just a few large companies.

•A recent paper, however, warns that regulators may actually be widening, instead of narrowing, the gap between big and small businesses through their rules.

•In “Barriers to prosperity: the harmful impact of entry regulations on income inequality”, published in Public Choice, Dustin Chambers, Patrick McLaughlin and Laura Stanley study the impact that entry regulations have on income inequality. The authors use World Bank data regarding entry regulations in different countries and compare it to various measures of inequality to gauge the relationship between the variables. They find that countries with greater barriers against the entry of new businesses also witness greater levels of inequality. In terms of numbers, one standard deviation increase in the number of procedures to start a business causes an increase of 7.2% in the share of income that accrues to the top decile of income earners and a 12.9% increase in the country’s Gini coefficient.

•The findings seem logical after one becomes aware of the unintended effects of government regulation. Entry regulations like licensing requirements, which are usually justified as necessary to uphold the common good, can make it harder for new businesses that are smaller in size to enter and compete against incumbent giants. This drastically reduces the number of opportunities available for the less fortunate to climb up the economic ladder by competing against existing large companies.

•Conversely, entry regulations also make it easier for rich businessmen to stay on top for longer than they would otherwise. With the help of regulations, large businesses can afford to be complacent about the threat of new companies challenging their position of dominance. Thus, big businesses that are keen to avoid the threat of competition from smaller players are generally supportive of the idea of the government regulating the entry of new players into their industry.

📰 Chief Economic Adviser rues breakdown of banking controls, rules

‘The problem has been festering for a long time’

•Chief Economic Adviser Arvind Subramanian on Monday said that there had been a breakdown of internal controls and external regulatory systems in Public Sector Banks (PSBs) in the light of the latest ₹11,500-crore Punjab National Bank fraud.

•“The problem has been festering for a long time and it is not just the PNB alone, there are issues with the Bank of Baroda and State Bank of India, too. We have to look at how to improve internal controls and consider whether it has anything to do with the ownership,” he said.

•Scams “do not happen in Public Sector Banks (PSBs) alone as most scams worldwide had happened in what were considered the best of private sector banks, but here we have the PSBs,” he said, while addressing a gathering at a talk organised by the public discourse forum, Manthan.

•Although he spoke mostly on the ‘Universal Basic Income’ (UBI) idea which he had unveiled in the last year’s Economic Survey, the CEA did not hesitate to give his take on the raging controversy when a question was posed to him on the PNB scam.

•“We have to consider what to do with the banks’ ownership, whether they should be privatised totally or they should have private sector participation,” he said, adding that the current issue also put a serious question mark on the functioning of the self-regulating professional bodies like the Institute of Chartered Accountants of India (ICAI).

•“It reflects very badly on the auditors and the CAs. Self-regulation, I think, is equal to self-praise,” he said and questioned the role of the external regulator. Mr. Subramanian was quite sure that the magnitude of bad assets (non-performing assets) of various banks could easily be 25% to 35% more of what had been disclosed in public.

External controls

•“External controls should be reviewed as the banking regulator has not been up to the job. We need to assess how to go about it, all of them need to be reviewed,” he said. At the same time, he said, a lot of progress had been made in recent years in coming to grips with regard to NPAs, taking up recapitalisation, the Bankruptcy Act, and so on.

•With regard to UBI, the CEA said he was glad that the governments of Telangana and Karnataka had resolved to take up what he called a ‘quasi’ UBI of cash entitlements to farmers even though he had propounded a basic income for all citizens. Just like the political class was responding to crisis in the agriculture, the current crises in the banking sector should be used to bring about changes, he said.

📰 NGT seeks report on Ganga rejuvenation

‘How many drains join the river from Kanpur to Uttar Pradesh border’

•The National Green Tribunal has sought a compliance report on the steps taken by the Centre, U.P. and Uttarakhand governments to clean river Ganga in the stretch between Gomukh and Unnao.

•A Bench, headed by Justice Jawad Rahim, directed the National Mission for Clean Ganga and the Uttar Pradesh Jal Nigam to submit a report on the number of drains joining river from Kanpur to the U.P. border.

Next hearing

•“It is submitted on behalf of the National Mission for Clean Ganga and Uttar Pradesh Jal Nigam that reports are ready but they would like to exchange the same between each other to reach on a consent in the matter relating to number of drains and action to be taken in terms of the directions of the tribunal. Request is allowed. In the meanwhile, the compliance report in terms of direction regarding the Segment B be filed before the Tribunal after serving the same to all the parties,” the Bench said.

•The matter was posted for next hearing on March 12.

•The green panel, in a detailed judgement, had passed a slew of directions to rejuvenate Ganga, declaring as ‘No Development Zone’ an area of 100 metres from the edge of the river between Haridwar and Unnao and prohibiting dumping of waste within 500 metres from the river.

•The Tribunal had earlier, in a detailed judgement, said the government has spent over Rs. 7,000 crore in two years to clean the Ganga which still remains a “serious environmental issue”.

•The order, running into 543 pages, said “till the demarcation of floodplains and identification of permissible and non-permissible activities by the State government of this judgement, we direct that 100 metres from the edge of the river would be treated as no development/construction zone between Haridwar to Unnao in U.P.”

•No-development zones are areas where no construction, including commercial or residential buildings, can come up.

•It also imposed a complete prohibition on disposal of municipal solid waste, e-waste or bio-medical waste on the floodplains or into the river and its tributaries.

•The Tribunal reiterated its earlier order of ban on mechanical mining in Ganga and said “no in-stream mechanical mining is permitted and even the mining on the floodplain should be semi-mechanical and preferably more manual”.

•The government has spent over Rs. 7,000 crore in two years to clean the Ganga which still remains a serious environmental issue

📰 Indices of a decent society

We must be alert that just as easily as foul air, even a little bit of hate and anger rapidly spreads

•Things do change, with a whimper and not with a bang. Changes in our lives creep upon us and before we know it they become part of our daily habits. This is true of changes in society as well as in nature. Earlier, Bengaluru used to be known for its gardens and greenery. Even the Kannada spoken in Bengaluru was leisurely and didn’t trip over its syllables in a hurry. We drank water off the taps and had no fans in our houses. Today, Bengaluru has become a developed city. We boast of the world’s first burning lake, of increasing incidences of diseases related to the low quality of air, and a falling public health profile. The list could go on. These problems are part of every town and city in India.

An indicator of our indifference

•We do not really know how we got from there to here. Like most development, changes often happen silently and outside our control. The recent report thatranks India 177 out of 180 countries in the Environmental Performance Index is not just an indicator of pollution but is as much an indicator of our indifference. The science fiction dystopia of biotech-created monsters or virulent viruses is not the real danger of unthinking development. It is when lakes catch fire, as the one in Bengaluru does so often, when we are ranked so low in the air quality index, or when water tastes like it is made in a chemistry lab that we realise we are already in the midst of this dystopia and don’t need Hollywood films to frighten us about it.

•But how did we arrive here? It is not just about pollution of nature but also of our society. How did we arrive at a situation where mile-long queues of silently simmering cars stand one behind the other every day at so many traffic junctions? How did we arrive at a situation where the very idea of development is only understood as a means to appease the incited desires of individuals? This is how hegemonic power changes the natural and social worlds — without our active intervention but at the same time appearing as if we are all acquiescent.

•This change is so powerfully naturalised that those who question its nature and pace are often portrayed negatively. This includes being termed as ‘anti-national’ or ‘anti-technology’. These are now almost synonymous, not so surprising considering that the nation is itself increasingly being viewed as a machine. In a society where it is so difficult to change certain social habits, this ‘secular’ notion of development has affected every town and city in ways that have been detrimental to the people living there. While there has been far more resistance to the environmental effects of modern life, such as the attempts to ban plastic or conserve water, there has been very limited awareness of the impact of the pollution of the social sphere. For example, we don’t seem to think that the cynical and systematic dismantling of education by vested interests today is as much a cause of worry.

Pollution of our society

•It would be a terrible mistake to think that one can make an easy distinction between pollution of the natural world and that of the social world. The pollution of our society is much like that of the natural world: it happens silently and seemingly without our control. One could even perhaps say that it is the prior pollution of the social world that creates natural pollution.

•This argument should not be too surprising. After all, some scholars have been claiming for quite some time that nature is already social. There is no pure nature that is available to us, and our ideas of nature are most often socially constructed. Thus, pollution of nature is as much the pollution of the social and vice versa. Just like garbage on the street or foul air, there is the garbage of hateful opinions and foul actions. We might not recognise when they began or how they became part of everyday talk. The breakdown of basic social decency or the incitement of hatred about others should not just be seen as social aberrations but as pollution of our society. Just as easily as foul air, even a little bit of hate and anger rapidly spreads.

•Like the air quality index or the water quality index, there should be indices of a decent society. Something like a ‘social indifference index’ can gauge social pollution and we shouldn’t be surprised if India ranks among the bottom in this category. Given the situation in the country today, I wonder what our ‘hate index’ and ‘inequality index’ will be.

•The point is that an effective way to tackle the pollution of the natural world is to recognise that this pollution is symptomatic of social problems also. If garbage is a worry, it is as much our social practices that make it an environmental problem. If our air is so badly polluted, it is as much due to the indifference of governance as the exhaust caused by thousands of vehicles. We could even argue that it is the social pollution related to certain caste practices that influences environmental disasters ranging from toilet use to dealing with dirt and pollution in general.

Unthinking development

•One of the greatest drivers of natural pollution is unthinking development in our country. Why do we take for granted that possessing a car or vehicle by every individual is a mark of progress? What is it about the nature of development that makes us so easily accept so many unwanted consequences in our daily life as if it is only a price we pay for development? Unthinking development is also an important driver of social pollution. Silently accepting toxic behaviour in our society is very similar to accepting products and technologies without even thinking about what we do. It is the creation of an artificial chasm between the natural and the social that makes us forget that the pollution of nature is a reflection of the pollution of our society.

•Our air or water quality index will improve when we attack social pollution in conjunction with natural pollution. The cleanliness of a nation is really not very different from the cleanliness of the natural environment. Being indifferent to the unequal access to wealth, education and health of millions of citizens is as bad as dumping toxic wastes into our drinking water. Just like plastic and bottled water have now become part of our lives, so have discourses of hate, anger and indifference. Unless we deal with social pollution as stringently as environmental pollution, it will be a sorry world that we leave behind for our children. Swachh Bharat needs to be as much about cleaning socially polluted ideas and practices as it is about cleaning our streets and toilets.

📰 Vaccines can prevent TB infections in adolescents

Clinical trial was conducted in South Africa

•A clinical trial has provided encouraging new evidence that TB vaccines can prevent sustained infections in high-risk adolescents. The results will be announced on Tuesday at the 5th Global Forum on TB Vaccines in New Delhi.

Subunit vaccine

•In the Phase 2 trial conducted in South Africa, revaccination with the Bacille Calmette-Guerin (BCG) vaccine significantly reduced sustained TB infections in adolescents. An experimental vaccine candidate, H4:IC31, also reduced sustained infections, although not at statistically significant levels.

•However, the trend observed for H4:IC31 is the first time a subunit vaccine has shown any indication of ability to protect against TB infection.

•The study was conducted to evaluate the safety and immunogenicity of the vaccine regimens, as well as their ability to prevent initial and sustained TB infections among healthy adolescents in the Western Cape Province of South Africa.

•Ann Ginsberg, MD, PhD, Chief Medical Officer at Aeras and a member of the organising committee for the 5th Global Forum on TB Vaccines, said: “We and our partners will share a range of new data at the 5th Global Forum on TB Vaccines, highlighting the scientific progress being made to develop potential new vaccines against TB, the world’s leading cause of death from an infectious disease.”

•According to the World Health Organisation, about one-third of the world’s population has latent TB infection, which means people have been infected by TB bacteria but are not (yet) ill with the disease and cannot transmit the disease. People infected with TB bacteria have a lifetime risk of falling ill with TB of 10%. People ill with TB can infect 10-15 other people through close contact over the course of a year. Without proper treatment, 45% of HIV-negative people with TB on average and nearly all HIV-positive people with TB will die.

•Mark Hatherill, MD, Director of the South African Tuberculosis Vaccine Initiative (SATVI) at the University of Cape Town, and the study’s principal investigator, said: “We are pleased to have performed the first-known randomised, placebo-controlled prevention-of- infection trial for TB and to have demonstrated that vaccination has the potential to reduce the rate of sustained TB infection in a high-transmission setting. While neither vaccine proved to be statistically significant in preventing an initial TB infection, we are extremely encouraged by the signals observed for both vaccines in preventing sustained TB infections.

•“We believe the results from this novel trial design will provide significant scientific benefit to the field in understanding TB infection, and based on this positive signal, we look forward to testing the potential of such vaccines to prevent TB disease among uninfected adolescents in a larger, more traditional prevention-of-disease clinical trial.”