The HINDU Notes – 22nd February 2018 - VISION

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Thursday, February 22, 2018

The HINDU Notes – 22nd February 2018

📰 Canada will not support separatists, says Trudeau

Assurance a big relief to us, says Punjab CM Amarinder after meeting visiting PM

•Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Wednesday asserted that his country believed in a united India and assured the Punjab government that it would not support any separatist movement in India.

•“Really happy to receive categorical assurance from Canadian PM Justin Trudeau that his country does not support any separatist movement. His words are a big relief to all of us here in India and we look forward to his government’s support in tackling fringe separatist elements,” tweeted Punjab Chief Minister Capt. Amarinder Singh, who had a one-on-one meeting, that lasted nearly 40 minutes, with Mr. Trudeau here.

•“I took up the issue pertaining to Khalistan as it is a matter of primary concern to us. He (Mr. Trudeau) is aware of it and has assured us that he is going to look into the matter,” said Capt. Singh after the meeting.

•During the meeting, Capt. Singh sought the Canadian Prime Minister’s cooperation in cracking down on separatism and hate crime by a fringe element, constituting a minuscule percentage of Canada’s population. In response Mr. Trudeau assured Capt. Singh that “his country did not support any separatist movement in India or elsewhere.”

•An official spokesperson said that while citing the separatist movement in Quebec, Mr. Trudeau said he had dealt with such threats all his life and was fully aware of the dangers of violence, which he had always pushed back with all his might.

List of operatives given

•Capt. Singh handed over a list of nine Category ‘A’ Canada-based operatives alleged to be involved in hate crimes in Punjab by financing and supplying weapons for terrorist activities, and also engaged in trying to radicalise youth and children in Punjab.

•At the meeting, in which Canadian Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan and Punjab Local Government Minister Navjot Singh Sidhu were also present, Capt. Singh also raised the issue of Indo-Canadians believed to be involved in targeted killings in Punjab, urging him to initiate stern action against such elements.

•“Though freedom of speech is enshrined in the Indian Constitution, separatists and hardliners as well as those propagating violence have lost any such right as they have been rejected outright by the people of Punjab,” said Capt. Singh.

•Earlier amid tight security, Mr. Trudeau, along with his wife and children, visited the Golden Temple. In the visitors’ book, Mr. Trudeau wrote: “What an honour to be well received at such a beautiful, meaningful place. We are filled with grace and humility.”

📰 Fire and fury

The Syrian regime’s offensive in Eastern Ghouta keeps up the brutality of the civil war

•Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has demonstrated once again that his regime cares little about the lives of its own people. The barbaric campaign of airstrikes and bombardments launched by government forces in rebel-held Eastern Ghouta, on the outskirts of Damascus, have killed at least 270 people in three days. Eastern Ghouta, with an estimated population of 400,000, is one of the last significant areas held by militants fighting the regime. It fell into the hands of the rebels in the early stages of the seven-year-long civil war, and repeated government attempts to overrun it were foiled. It was here that chemical weapons were used in 2013, killing hundreds of people. When most other rebel-held parts of Syria, including Aleppo, were recaptured by government troops, militants have moved to Eastern Ghouta and Idlib. Now both areas are under attack. In the use of heavy firepower, the assault resembles the government campaign in Aleppo and elsewhere. In Aleppo, one of Syria’s largest cities, Syrian and Russian jets pounded rebel targets in late 2016; this was followed by a ground attack by government troops and Iran-trained militants. Similarly, Eastern Ghouta, which was under a government blockade for years, appears to have been surrounded by ground forces, which could advance to rebel positions inside the city any time.

•There is a wide range of militant groups in Eastern Ghouta, including the Saudi-backed Jaysh al-Islam, the Qatar-funded Faylaq al-Rahman, and Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), the Syrian branch of al-Qaeda. The government says the city is occupied by terrorists from these groups and that the few civilians remaining there are used as human shields. The militants in Eastern Ghouta and the jihadist elements amongst them have repeatedly shelled government-controlled neighbourhoods in Damascus. Generally the rebels appear to have lost the momentum against Mr. Assad in the civil war. Nonetheless, the government narrative is problematic as it holds all residents of Eastern Ghouta responsible for the occupation of the area by militants. The years-long blockade of the area that has deprived Eastern Ghouta of food and medicines, and the indiscriminate bombing, killing of unarmed civilians including children, expose the monstrosity of the Assad regime. From the very beginning of the civil war, the regime and its Russian and Iranian backers have paid little attention to human suffering, be it in Hama, Homs, Aleppo or Eastern Ghouta. Given the brutality it has unleashed now, the government could capture Eastern Ghouta as well. But at what cost? After seven years of war and 400,000 deaths, Syria is a broken, bleeding land, thanks to Mr. Assad and his friends and foes. The real tragedy is that none of the parties involved is interested in ending this war.

📰 The Israel factor in Syria

As Israel tries to counter Iranian influence, its capacity to shape outcomes in Syria is limited

•The massive air raids that Israel carried out in Syria earlier this month against “Iranian targets” and the subsequent downing of an Israeli jet by Syrian fire showed how deeply and dangerously Israel is involved in the civil war in its neighbouring country. On the face of it, the whole story appears to be strange. In Syria, the civil war is complex. On the one hand, there is the regime of President Bashar al-Assad, backed by Hezbollah, Iran and Russia. On the other, a wide range of militias, from al-Qaeda and Islamic State jihadists to Free Syrian Army rebels, is fighting the regime. What has Israel got to do with a civil war between a hostile regime and a group of unpredictable dangerous militia groups?

•In the initial years of the civil war, Israel’s policy choices seemed to have been driven by the same calculation. The Assad regime and Israel have never been friendly. In the 1967 war, Israel captured the Golan Heights from Syria and continues to occupy the region. More than a decade later, Syria intervened in Lebanon. It then provided help to militants, mainly Hezbollah, who were resisting an Israeli occupation of the country. Syria and Israel do not have formal diplomatic ties. Despite this, there was no direct military confrontation between the two countries. In fact, despite the hostility, Israel’s border with Syria has been its calmest frontier for years. When the crisis broke in Syria in 2011, Israel was a fence sitter. It didn’t want the stable secular dictatorship in its neighbourhood to be replaced by a bunch of militants. But as the Syrian civil war evolved into a regional conflict over the years, Israel’s preferences and strategic calculations changed too.

The Hezbollah factor

•When the Syrian regime’s position got weakened in the conflict, Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shia militant group backed by Iran, sent thousands of its soldiers to the battlefield to defend the Assad government. Iran also sent Shia militants, who were recruited from different countries, to Syria. Besides the government army, these militias fought the war on the ground on behalf of the regime. Israel was alarmed by the growing role of Hezbollah and other Iran-sponsored militias in Syria. Since the early 1980s, Hezbollah has remained a thorn in Israel’s regional strategy. In 2000, Israel withdrew from southern Lebanon, ending 18 years of occupation, mainly due to Hezbollah’s guerrilla resistance. In 2006, Israel bombed Lebanon again to destroy Hezbollah’s weapons infrastructure, but even after a month-long campaign, it failed to achieve its stated goals. Hezbollah has heavy military presence along southern Lebanon (or across Israel’s northern border).

•The Syrian war allowed Hezbollah to coordinate with its Iranian patrons directly in the battlefield. Iran has also reportedly transferred short-range missiles and other sophisticated weapons to Hezbollah via Syria. Israel responded to this through a two-pronged strategy. First, it established contact with anti-regime rebels in southern Syria, closer to the Golan. Initially Israel offered medical aid and other humanitarian assistance to the rebels, which later acquired military and logistical dimensions. The plan was to carve out a buffer between the Golan Heights that Israel controls and the Syrian Golan. Israel didn’t want Hezbollah or other Iranian proxies to take control of the border region. According to analyst Elizabeth Tsurkov, who wrote a detailed report on Israel’s activities in southern Syria, Tel Aviv now offers support to seven different rebel groups in the region, including Liwaa Forsan Jolan, Firqat Ahrar Nawa, and a section of the Free Syrian Army. Besides providing money, weapons and intelligence, Israel also supported the advances by these groups on the ground with air cover. One such incident was the Israeli bombing of regime positions in southern Syria in April 2017 after local rebel groups came under heavy attacks by regime-backed troops.

•The second strategy was to retain the freedom to strike Hezbollah positions inside Syria. When Russia intervened in Syria, Israel negotiated for this freedom with Moscow. Since Russia’s intervention in Syria in September 2015, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has travelled to Russia to meet President Vladimir Putin at least five times. Both nations developed a deconfliction mechanism that allowed Israeli planes to attack Hezbollah targets inside Syria without clashing with Russia, which is practically controlling most of the Syrian skies. This agreement worked perfectly for Israel. Last year alone, Israel said it struck suspected weapons shipments to Hezbollah around 100 times.

The Iran heat

•But despite these on-and-off interventions, Israel has failed to build any substantial leverage in Syria’s conflict zones. True, it has built influence among rebel groups in southern Syria. But developments in Syria over the past two years have scuttled Israel’s strategic plans. The Israelis may have initially thought that the Russian intervention could reduce the Syrian regime’s dependence on Iran, which is Tel Aviv’s primary concern. But the Russians played on both sides. Their only strategic target was to rescue the regime. They neither stopped the Israelis from attacking Hezbollah targets inside Syria nor did they stop the Iranians from expanding their footprint in the country. Later, when the regime stabilised its rule, thanks to the Russian intervention, Iran’s influence also grew. Iran now has various military facilities across Syria’s regime-held territories.

•In southern Syria, Israel had built a network of rebels. But even in this area, its position has weakened over the past year. Jordan, which had offered support to the rebels in the early years of the civil war, changed its policy in the wake of heavy refugee flow. Last year, the Trump administration shut down the CIA’s military operation command in Amman that was coordinating with Syrian rebels, leaving the rebels, particularly those in the south, entirely dependent on Israel. Besides, the regime forces are making advances towards the south. They have already established some posts near Quneitra in northern Golan. Late last year, the regime regained a foothold on the de facto border with Israel by capturing Beit Jinn from the rebels. In effect, Israel not only failed to contain the spread of Iranian influence in Syria, but is also under pressure to halt the advances of regime forces towards the south.

•It was against this background that Israel strengthened its bombing campaign in Syria this month. Prime Minister Netanyahu has also warned Iran “not to test our resolve.” But beyond rhetoric, as the past incidents suggest, Israel’s capacity to shape reality in Syria is limited. In seven years, Iran has built a huge network in Syria and emboldened Hezbollah. This cannot be eliminated by occasional aerial raids. A full-scale intervention is risky as long as Russia directly backs the regime. And if the regime forces capture Idlib and the Damascus suburbs, which is only a matter of time, they will shift their focus to the Israel-backed rebels in the south, dragging Tel Aviv deeper into the conflict.

📰 India dismayed at Male’s move

New Delhi expresses disappointment over extension of Emergency for a month

•Expressing its disappointment over the Maldives government’s decision to extend the state of Emergency for another month despite India’s objections, New Delhi issued another statement on Wednesday, calling the move unconstitutional, words that could lead to a face-off with the Yameen government.

•“We are deeply dismayed that the government of Maldives has extended the state of Emergency for a further 30 days. The manner in which the extension of the state of Emergency was approved by the Majlis in contravention of the Constitution of Maldives is also a matter of concern,” the External Affairs Ministry said in a statement, referring to the passage of the Emergency extension resolution in Parliament on Tuesday despite there not being the requisite quorum of 43 members.

•The Maldivian Ambassador to India, Mohamed Ahmed, denied the accusation that the move was unconstitutional. “Their [Ministry’s] interpretation is incorrect,” Mr. Ahmed told The Hindu. “In this case, the President [Yameen] declared a state of Emergency, Parliament extended it. And to check whether there are any issues with the extension of Emergency, it has been referred to the Supreme Court.” Later on Wednesday, the Supreme Court reportedly cleared the validity of the Emergency extension as well.

‘Communication open’

•Asked if the decision meant that ties between India and the Maldives had broken down, Mr. Ahmed said, “Channels of communication” remained open and Indian Ambassador to Male Akhilesh Mishra met with Maldivian Foreign Secretary Ahmed Sareer on Wednesday. A statement from the Maldivian Foreign Ministry said the two officials had “discussed the ongoing political developments and reiterated the government of Maldives’s firm commitment to work with international partners, including India.” The Ministry declined to comment on the meeting.

Series of statements

•India has issued a series of statements of concern over the Maldives Emergency declared by President Yameen on February 5, after the Maldivian Supreme Court overturned the imprisonment of nine political rivals, including former President Mohamed Nasheed. Since then, the Yameen government has put more leaders in prison and arrested the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and other judges. India rejected an offer by President Yameen to send an envoy to explain the circumstances, saying that democracy must be restored first. In a significant move, the government allowed Mr. Nasheed to travel to India for a conference organised by The Hindu last week, where he called for India to compel Mr. Yameen to reverse the Emergency.

•“It is important that Maldives quickly returns to the path of democracy and the rule of law so that the aspirations of Maldivian people are met and the concerns of the international community are assuaged,” the Ministry added in its latest statement.

•However, India is yet to spell out what the consequences of not heeding its word will be to the government in Male.

U.S. concerned

•In Washington, the U.S. State Department issued a statement of concern, while the European Union is expected to hold a meeting of senior Ministers on Monday to discuss the situation in the Maldives.

•In response, the Yameen government said it acknowledged the concerns and “assured the international community that the decision was taken as a last resort, after serious and exhaustive consideration” and that “the state of Emergency will be lifted as soon as the threats posed to national security are addressed satisfactorily”.

📰 Pakistan Supreme Court rules ousted PM Sharif cannot lead his party

Sharif denies wrongdoing, says steps politically motivated, Opposition praises ruling, Sharif's party defiant

•Pakistan's Supreme Court on Wednesday ordered that ousted prime minister Nawaz Sharif be removed as head of the political party he founded, six months after the court disqualified him as the country's leader over unreported income.

•The new ruling could throw into disarray Senate elections due on March 3, with opposition figures saying it invalidates candidates from the ruling PakistanMuslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) nominated by Mr. Sharif.

•The PML-N controls the lower house of parliament. Winning control of the Senate too would allow the PML-N to change the constitution to make Mr. Sharif eligible to hold office again when the party contests a national election due later this year.

•Mr. Sharif is also being tried by a separate anti-corruption court on other charges - proceedings ordered by the Supreme Court last July - and could face jail when that trial winds up as soon as next month.

•Wednesday's order overturned a legal amendment by PML-N lawmakers allowing Mr. Sharif to remain party president despite being disqualified from public office by the Supreme Court for failing to declare monthly income of 10,000 Emirati dirham ($2,723) from a company owned by his son.

•“The Election Commission is directed to remove the name of Nawaz Sharif as president of PML-N from all official records,” Chief Justice Saqib Nisar said from the bench.

•“As a result, all steps taken, all orders passed by Nawaz Sharif are also declared to be as if they had never been taken.”

•Mr. Sharif denies any wrongdoing and has said his family fortune was obtained legally.

•Mr. Sharif's party retains a majority in the National Assembly and has vowed it will be vindicated in elections held this year, in which his brother will be the prime ministerial candidate.

•While the national election is voted upon by the public, the Senate election is conducted by members of the National Assembly and the local assemblies of Pakistan's four provinces.


•The legal cases against Mr. Sharif have been spearheaded by opposition politician Imran Khan, a former international cricketer whose party cheered Wednesday's decision as a victory against corrupt politics.

•Members of Mr. Sharif's party were defiant on Wednesday.

•“This is Pakistan. Nawaz Sharif will run PML-N even if he is in a jail cell,” said a government official from Mr. Sharif's party, speaking on condition of anonymity.

•“It will send an impression among people, and in our party that these actions are being taken to pressure Nawaz Sharif,” Zafrullah Khan, Sharifs ruling party legal adviser, said to Geo TV. “It will benefit us.”

•Mr. Sharif has said his removal from office was part of a political conspiracy against him, and his party and the judiciary have engaged in an escalating war of words.

•Mr. Sharif has served as prime minister twice before and each time was removed from office - in 1993 by presidential order and in 1999 by a military coup that saw him jailed and later exiled before returning when General Pervez Musharraf stepped down.

•Faisal Chaudhry, a lawyer for one of the 17 opposition party petitioners who sought Mr. Sharif's removal as party head, said the court decision invalidated all of Sharif's decisions since last July, including the candidates he nominated for the Senate election.

•“My understanding is that the candidates can still contest but as independent and not as Nawaz Sharif's party ticket holders,” Mr. Chaudhry said.

•Mr. Khan's party praised the ruling, saying it was a “disgrace to the constitution to appoint a person who has been disqualified by the court for dishonesty and corruption”.

📰 Bangladesh fears exodus of Bengalis from Assam

Asks India to halt the national citizens register plan

•The ongoing process of compiling the National Register of Citizens in Assam may trigger an exodus of Bengalis and create one more Rohingya-like refugee crisis for Bangladesh, senior officials of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s government said here on Wednesday.

•Addressing visiting Indian journalists, they said the process in Assam is threatening India-Bangladesh ties and will be exploited by anti-India elements and Islamic fundamentalists who are challenging the Awami League rule.

•“Citizenship issue will be another disappointment after the setback on the sharing of water of the river Teesta. We believe India should think of its friendship with Bangladesh before going ahead with the full implementation of the citizens register in Assam.

•“If the process leads to deportation of a section of the Bengali population of Assam, it will trigger another Rohingya-like refugee crisis,” said Iqbal Shobhan Chowdhury, media adviser to Prime Minister Hasina.

•Bangladeshi policymakers are unanimous that the failure to conclude the Teesta water sharing agreement between New Delhi and Dhaka has been disappointing and the ongoing process in Assam will complicate the situation further.

•Prime Minister Hasina reflected this sentiment on Tuesday and said, “It’s sad that ‘Didimoni’ (West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee) does not want to give the share of Teesta’s water that belongs to us.” These observations have gained significance as a section of the ruling Awami League believes that India has not reciprocated Ms. Hasina’s support on counter-insurgency steps in the northeastern states.

•They said that the Awami League government under Ms. Hasina, without any expectation of reciprocity, aided India to nab ULFA leaders who had taken refuge in Bangladesh and in Southeast Asia. But a new refugee flow from Assam, will undo years of bilateral cooperation.

•They said that Bangladesh experienced two major floods in 2017 and the Rohingya crisis has strained its resources and further turmoil will add to the volatility of the country which is heading to the polls by the end of the year. In a frank exchange regarding irritants to bilateral ties, officials said the citizen-related exercise in Assam is reminiscent of the communalism of the 1940s.

•“If someone has lived in a place for sometime, then he or she is presumed to belong to that place and they should have the freedom to stay where they are located. But the (exercise reflects the) the two-nation theory and it seems that Muslims are meant to live in Bangladesh and Hindus will live in India, as if Bangladesh is a successor to Pakistan,” said Mashiur Rahman, senior civil servant and Economic Affairs Adviser to the Prime Minister of Bangladesh.

•Ms. Hasina’s party has been in power for nine years and has to counter anti-incumbency factor along with other substantial issues. “India must help us,” said Communication Minister Obaidul Quader urging Delhi to address Dhaka’s concerns.

📰 Bench vs Bench in SC

•In a rare show of public anguish, a three-judge Supreme Court Bench led by Justice Madan B. Lokur criticised another Bench for “tinkering with judicial discipline”.

•Justice Lokur’s Bench, which includes Justices Kurian Joseph and Deepak Gupta, found fault with a judgment delivered by another Bench of three judges led by Justice Arun Mishra in a land acquisition case on February 8.

•Justice Mishra’s Bench, on February 8, held that a 2014 judgment of the Supreme Court was pronounced without due regard to law or per incuriam.

📰 Learning from Cauvery

It’s time political parties realise that their strident stands on water-sharing issues have no bearing on election outcomes

•The long-awaited judgment of the Supreme Court on the Cauvery dispute, delivered last week, by and large caused hardly any disruption to life in the river’s principal basin-States, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. This situation is refreshingly different from what was witnessed during many judicial pronouncements since the 1990s, leading to strikes, farmers’ agitations, vandalism and the loss of human life.

Joy and discomfort

•The judgment has, however, brought joy in Karnataka, and discomfiture in certain sections of Tamil Nadu. The reason is not far to seek. The overall allocation of Karnataka was increased by 14.75 thousand million cubic feet (tmc ft) at the cost of Tamil Nadu. The enhanced allocation includes 4.75 tmc ft exclusively for drinking water requirements of Bengaluru. The increase and decrease have been worked out, keeping the Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal’s final order of 2007 as the reference point. On the eve of the verdict, a senior Karnataka Minister said that his government was hopeful of getting 30-40 tmc ft more than what was awarded by the tribunal.

•Except this modification, the verdict has essentially stuck to the final order. It neither disturbed the allocations for Kerala and Puducherry, the other constituents of the Cauvery basin, nor the basis for apportioning river water or the extent of irrigated areas for the two principal States. In fact, to the relief of Tamil Nadu, the court was unequivocal on the formulation of a scheme to implement the modified final order, and it asked the Centre to draft the scheme in six weeks. The scheme entails the creation of an implementation mechanism, called the Cauvery Management Board (CMB). Regardless of the Centre using the same nomenclature or not, what looks certain is the establishment of a mechanism.

Doubts persist

•Already, doubts have been expressed in Tamil Nadu on whether the Central government will see to it that the scheme is put in place within the given period as Karnataka goes to Assembly elections in a few months. This has been complemented with Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah’s reiterating his opposition to the idea of the CMB. On this count, other political parties in Karnataka are also echoing the stand of the Chief Minister. Meanwhile, even though there exists only a limited scope for serious objections to the court’s judgment, the Tamil Nadu government, now devoid of a strong leader like Jayalalithaa, is being pulled up by its political adversaries for not having done enough to protect interests of the State.

•Such reactions are not surprising as political leaders of both States are, unfortunately, under the impression that their position on the Cauvery dispute would determine their respective electoral fortunes. But, the reality is somewhat different. Otherwise, how would one explain the success of the Congress in the 2013 Karnataka Assembly elections despite facilitating the notification of the final order in the gazette of the Central government barely three months before the polls? The day before the publication of the order on February 19, 2013, the then Chief Minister of Karnataka, Jagadish Shettar of the Bharatiya Janata Party, led an all-party delegation and urged Manmohan Singh, who then headed the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government at the Centre, not to do so.

•Earlier, in October 2002, S.M. Krishna, who was then Chief Minister of Karnataka and still in the Congress, adopted a confrontationist path by organising a nine-day march from Bengaluru to Mandya in the name of protecting farmers’ interests. But, when the Assembly elections took place in May 2004, the Congress, which had won 132 seats in the 1999 elections, could win in just 65 constituencies.

Competitive politics

•Competitive politics on matters concerning water are not confined only to Karnataka or Tamil Nadu politicians. The situation is the same in other parts of the country. Sadly, these leaders do not realise that their strident position on water does not guarantee victory. In July 2004, when faced with a Supreme Court direction to the Centre to ensure completion of the Sutlej-Yamuna Link (SYL) Canal, Amarinder Singh, then Punjab Chief Minister, got a bill passed by the State Assembly and cleared by Governor O.P. Verma at lightning speed, terminating all previous agreements and accords on the Ravi and Beas river waters. But, his act of unilateralism did not ensure the victory of his party – the Congress – in the 2007 Assembly polls in Punjab. Capt. Singh had to wait for 10 years to return to power.

•It should be obvious to the political class that electoral outcomes are shaped by a combination of complex factors. It is time that water issues are de-politicised and political parties learn to see reason and respect the rule of law without getting carried away by electoral considerations. The BJP-led Central government has got a golden opportunity on Cauvery to set a new, healthy trend.

📰 ‘New law cannot cure past breach’

Judge’s remark comes after petitioners dub pre-2016 data collection unlawful

•Mere absence of a law can be cured by subsequently enacting one with a retroactive effect, but this new law cannot cure “breaches” that occurred prior to it, Justice D.Y. Chandrachud observed orally during a Constitution Bench hearing in the Aadhaar challenge.

•The judge, who is a part of the Constitution Bench led by Chief Justice Dipak Misra, was referring to the mass collection of personal data from citizens during the pre-Aadhaar Act years from 2009 to 2016. The Aadhaar law came into existence in 2016.

•The judge was responding to submissions made by senior advocate Gopal Subramanium, for petitioners, that the subsequent enactment of Aadhaar Act in 2016 cannot cure the “complete invasion of privacy” which occurred in the pre-statute years of the Aadhaar scheme.

‘Rights violated’

•“There is no embargo on the government to cure the deficiency of absence of law by enacting a legislation subsequently. A breach because of the absence of law can be cured by enacting a law. But, on the other hand, if there are other breaches on fundamental rights, we have to see whether this curative law (Aadhaar Act) can cure those breaches,” Justice Chandrachud addressed Mr. Subramanium.

•He said the abrogation of fundamental rights which occurred during the collection of personal information during the pre-Aadhaar Act years was a “choate act” in itself.

•“There was no voluntariness on the part of the citizen in its true sense, all the purposes for the collection and use of the personal information was not conveyed to him, the information was open to be shared among other entities, including private parties. All this made the collection of data unlawful,” Mr. Subramanium argued.

•He claimed that the Aadhaar Act itself was “violative of fundamental rights”. “No Act can retroactively protect fundamental right. There cannot be a retroactive assertion of substantial and procedural reasonableness... That is, the Act cannot ratify anything illegal,” Mr. Subramanium submitted.

•“The enactment of 2016 cannot cure the breaches that happened prior to it,” Justice Chandrachud observed.

📰 As the borders begin to close

India’s policymakers must be alive to uncertainty in migrant remittances from the West and West Asia

•After the global financial crisis in 2008, the world has begun looking to developing nations to show the way to high economic growth and development. Emerging economies, India and China for example, have become increasingly involved in influencing global economic policies and voicing their development concerns and priorities in various multilateral fora. These economies have benefited from increasing globalisation and the growing movement of goods and people between countries. Consequently, they are among the largest recipients of global remittances.

•Twenty-three countries, led by India and followed by China, the Philippines, Mexico, Pakistan and Nigeria, receive over 80% of global remittances. However, as a share of gross domestic product (GDP), the top five recipients are smaller nations: Haiti, the Kyrgyz Republic, Liberia, Nepal and Tajikistan. In these low- and middle-income countries, remittances have helped lift millions out of poverty and unemployment and enhanced their standard of living and human development. In this context, India’s case is no different. The positive impact of migration on economic growth and development through increased remittances is well established. The experience of Kerala, which receives remittances equalling 36.3% of its gross State domestic product, is testimony to this.

•India has witnessed sharp remittance growth since 1991. Remittances, which were valued at $2.1 billion in 1991, touched $70.4 billion in 2014. Since then, the value of remittances to India has seen a modest decline: $68.9 billion in 2015 and $62.7 billion in 2016. There was a slight improvement last year — $65.4 billion. However, in a world that is now witnessing a fractious debate on migration, considerable uncertainties about remittances remain.

•India receives about 56% of its remittances from migrants in West Asia, with the remainder from mainly North America and Europe. Rapid changes in the economy and the sociopolitical climate in West Asia have had an impact on remittances. Additionally, developments such as Brexit and the Trump presidency in the U.S. have further complicated matters. Simply put, the more a rich nation starts to rely on its own workforce and tightly controlled borders, the less a poorer nation can rely on remittances for its development needs and to achieve the sustainable development goals.

The case of West Asia

•While it was expected that remittances would recede after the recession in 2008, they barely did. However, the Arab Spring in 2010 and subsequent counter-revolutionary moves by states had an impact. The theme of nationalisation took over the Arab world. Along with declining oil prices and sluggish regional economies, especially in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, the regional governments decided to prioritise filling their workforce with their nationals.

•Among the six GCC countries, only the United Arab Emirates and Oman continue to maintain their erstwhile immigration policy. However, Oman began “Omanisation”, a policy aimed at replacing expatriate workers with trained Omani personnel, back in 1988. The other four, Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, have tightened their immigration policies to appease increasingly restive youth, many of whom were unemployed and participated in protests during the Arab uprisings. In 2011, the Saudi government enacted “Saudisation”, officially known as Saudi Nationalisation Scheme or Nitaqat system in Arabic, with a view to reducing unemployment among Saudi nationals, with incentives being announced for companies and enterprises performing in accordance with this system.

•Governments in West Asia have been trying to reduce unemployment and “demographically engineer” the workforce whereby legal, social and political separations between nationals and non-nationals would shift. There were gains in many ways. Kuwait, for example, between 2016 and 2017, reduced unemployment from 16.5% to 1%. Saudi Arabia regularised five million irregular workers and cracked down on illegal migrants. There were also attempts to increase control over foreign workers, as opposed to sponsors, and curtail abuse by employers, though these efforts were timid. It is evident that the younger natives of West Asia, who are increasingly becoming educated, will replace migrants in the coming years, in turn leading to a reduction in remittances, especially to the South Asian and Southeast Asian regions.

Kerala’s remittance economy

•It is not unfair to say that without remittances, Kerala would have had to adopt an entirely different economic growth path. Since the 1970s, the Gulf region has attracted millions of Malayalis, with remittances amounting to over 36% of the State’s GDP. Kerala is unique in this sense that no other large State in India depends so much on remittances. This also makes the southern State the perfect setting to study the phenomenon of migration.

•The Kerala Migration Surveys, conducted by the Centre for Development Studies, have studied migration from Kerala since 1998. In 2016, for the first time in 20 years, the Malayali migrant community got smaller by 10% to 2.2 million. This was on account of nationalisation policies and because decades of migration had made Malayalis educated and skilled enough to aim for more specialised professions. Unskilled and semi-skilled migrants from Kerala were not only replaced by migrants from other Asian countries such as the Philippines and Nepal, but also by other Indian migrants from Bihar, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh. This 10% decrease in migration is expected to result in a similar decrease in remittances to the State.

•Remittances to Kerala exceeded Rs. 71,000 crore in 2014. A migrant supports three to four family members back home and a a third of the population directly benefits through migration. Another third benefits indirectly through multiplier effects. Remittance flows to Kerala saw a sharp rise of over 40% between 2011-2014. Of late, this trend has reversed. If the State does not identify alternative means of employment and revenue generation for its labour force as well as returned emigrants, it will turn out to be problematic. Return emigrants account for 1.2 million of Kerala’s population. The State thus faces the huge challenge of reintegrating and rehabilitating them into the society and the economy. This demands innovative policies targeted at skilling, reskilling and educating both prospective and returned emigrants.

•This is not to say that lower migration and remittances will be a disaster for the State. If the government adopts measures to utilise local resources and create jobs, it might end up in a better position overall. This is because migration comes with a lot of social costs. A migrant worker might make more money, but (s)he also leaves a family behind. Women, children and the elderly who are left behind deal with issues such as loneliness, anxiety, depression and inadequate care.

Reality of a closed world

•As mentioned earlier, another chunk of remittances is from North America and Europe. Europe is also the largest remittance-sending region in the world, surpassing even West Asia. The recent refugee crisis, the largest since World War II, has unsettled European economies, fuelling xenophobic and anti-immigration sentiments. Brexit and the presidency of Donald Trump in the U.S. are also expected to have a drastic impact on migration and the flow of remittances. Data from the U.K. show a large exodus of other Europeans. The popular effect of Mr. Trump’s stronger immigration policies and the temporary ban on immigrants from certain Muslim majority nations are conspicuous in the results of domestic elections and a surge in markets.

•It seems obvious that migration and remittances will take on a more prominent role in internal and international politics. While the latter part of the last century was commanded by liberal ideas on migration and open borders, the near future seems to be influenced by populist, right-wing ideas. This negative reaction to migration among developed countries is likely to spread. Therefore, it is imperative that developing nations that have relied on remittances formulate strategies to compensate for the restricted flow of remittances that is expected in the near future. India must remember that with the rapid and large-scale economic and cultural changes in West Asia, Europe or the U.S., the future of emigration and remittances remains uncertain. The Kerala Migration Survey 2018 and the proposed India Migration Survey 2020 will explore these issues and evolve adequate policy responses.

📰 The nuts and bolts of a fraud

SWIFT, LoUs and the Punjab National Bank case

How did the Punjab National Bank (PNB) scam work?

•Diamond merchant Nirav Modi has been accused of siphoning off funds worth about Rs. 11,500 crore from the public sector bank, PNB. A key element of the scam is the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT), a messaging network that connects banks and other financial institutions across the world. Among other things, a bank that is part of SWIFT can use the system to convey credit instruments called letters of undertaking (LoUs) to other banks located overseas. An LoU is simply a request made to another bank in the SWIFT network to loan money to a client. The bank that issues the LoU essentially guarantees the bank that receives the LoU request that it stands by the creditworthiness of the borrower. That is, in case of a default, the bank that issued the LoU stands liable to compensate the bank that made the loan to the borrower. PNB alleges that employees at one of its branches in Mumbai issued fraudulent LoUs that were not authorised by its management. This allegedly allowed Mr. Modi's companies to obtain loans from the overseas branches of various Indian banks.

Why did it happen?

•PNB’s internal information systems were not seamlessly linked to SWIFT. It is claimed that the huge fund transfers made via SWIFT to Mr. Modi’s companies by a few PNB employees went undetected for many years. Many critics, however, contend that the fraud is not simply a matter of the failure of PNB’s internal control system. Instead, they blame flaws in the ownership of public sector banks. In fact, the PNB scam came to light only after a whistle-blower exposed it.

Is this the first time?

•No. SWIFT has been gamed by miscreants on a number of occasions. In 2016, there was a cyber-heist of $81 million from Bangladesh’s central bank. Russia’s central bank recently reported that $6 million was stolen from a Russian bank last year by exploiting the SWIFT system. Even the Reserve Bank of India stated this week that it had privately warned Indian banks about the prospect of misuse of SWIFT at least three times since August 2016.

📰 Blockchain tech could help prevent frauds like at PNB

Given the distributed ledger technology’s potential to improve monitoring, SBI has adopted it in its reconciliation systems, payment gateways

•The adoption of blockchain by India’s banks could help avert frauds such as the one at Punjab National Bank as the disaggregated and transparent nature of the technology, which updates information across all users simultaneously, would have ensured that various officials would have instantly been alerted to the creation of the letters of undertaking (LoUs), according to bankers and blockchain specialists.

‘Immediate notification’

•“Transaction reconciliation systems at present do not result in immediate notification,” Mrutyunjay Mahapatra, Deputy Managing Director and Chief Information Officer at State Bank of India, told The Hindu. “Using blockchain, all parties on the chain will be immediately notified about a transaction.”

•Blockchain, a distributed ledger technology originally developed as an accounting system for the cryptocurrency Bitcoin, is being researched across the banking and financial services industries for the potential benefits it may offer in an increasingly digitised business environment.

•Central banks including the U.S. Federal Reserve and the Reserve Bank of India have been examining the technology to understand the regulatory challenges it may pose.

•“Blockchain potentially has far-reaching implications for the financial sector, and this is prompting more and more banks, insurers and other financial institutions to invest in research into potential applications of this technology,” the RBI’s Working Group on FinTech and Digital Banking said in a report. “Market participants in other securities markets are exploring the usage of blockchain or distributed database technology to provide various services such as clearing and settlement, trading,” the report noted. “Indian securities market may also see such developments in the near future and, therefore, there is a need to understand the benefits, risks and challenges such developments may pose.”

Implementation at SBI

•SBI was convinced of blockchain’s utility, especially its potential to improve internal fraud monitoring, and had already implemented it in its reconciliation systems and in several cross-country payment gateways, according to Mr. Mahapatra. “In blockchain, from the source system it will try to match the transactions, so one can immediately verify any transaction using blockchain.”

•Suveer Kumar Gupta, CEO of Shivalik Mercantile Cooperative Bank said blockchain would ensure easy tracking of entries.“If the LoUs were on the blockhain, then they would have been there for everybody to see, and every entry into the chain leaves a clear record of who made that entry, and where.”

•Blockchains, Mr Gupta explained, are immutable and distributed ledgers, which means that anything recorded on them cannot be changed or deleted, and is instantly uploaded to all users on that blockchain.

•“If my bank wants to lend to a borrower, I need to know what all he has borrowed from other institutions as well. For that, we have the CIBIL score at present, but that data is prone to human error.”

•However, Mr. Mahapatra pointed out that simply depending on technology to prevent frauds is fraught, since they take place at the human level, where an official with the correct authentication can misuse the system.

•“The modus operandi of the fraud as it appears right now is that somebody used all the authentication methods and it was compromised at the user level,” Mr. Mahapatra said. “If that is the case, then any technology can be hoodwinked. Here, what was given into the system is not in doubt, the one who gave it into the system is in doubt.”

•Still, blockchain’s technology is such that even human error can be greatly mitigated, Kartik Mandaville, CEO of SpringRole, a blockchain solutions company said. “Blockchain can fix this by having everything linked to the same database.”

•“The Core Banking Solution is definitely a good first step, and this is why something like this fraud could not have happened in SBI, because everything is linked to the core system, even the foreign banking system. In PNB, the SWIFT system was not connected to CBS.”

•“Blockchain takes this one step further towards a decentralised system where you need multiple branches to give their approval before any sort of transaction is approved or an LoU is issued,” Mr. Mandaville added.

•Another big challenge that blockchain can address is providing a basis for the trust banks have in each other, thereby preventing such frauds from taking place.

•“Another big challenge is the trust between banks,” Mr. Gupta said. “I trust that, say, ICICI Bank is giving correct information only because we feel that we should trust each other. There is no tangible backing of that trust. Once blockchain comes in, that trust will be backed up by clear tangible proof.”

•“For example, Axis Bank in Hong Kong gave loans to Nirav Modi only because they trusted what was coming from PNB Mumbai,” Mr. Gupta added. “Had it been on blockchain, those clear entries would have been there that show whether the information is correct or not. That is one way such frauds can be prevented.”

•“Blockchain is not a panacea for all issues facing the banking system today,” said Jesse Chenard, Founder and CEO of Monetago, a blockchain company that works closely with financial institutions. “However, blockchain is an ideal technology to ensure proof of integrity to the data and reduce incidents of fraud.”

📰 RBI: inflation could spur shift in stance

RBI Governor Urjit Patel observed that consumer price inflation was the main yardstick to determine policy rates.

•The Monetary Policy Committee of the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) could shift from its current ‘neutral’ policy stance to a ‘withdrawal of accommodation’ stance if headline inflation projection for the year ahead remained well above the target, the minutes of the central bank’s interest rate setting panel’s last meeting show.

‘Coming months key’

•“The next few months of inflation and growth data will be key to determining the evolution of policy rates,” Viral Acharya, Deputy Governor, RBI, who oversees the monetary policy department was cited as having said at the two-day meet of the MPC earlier this month. The meeting’s minutes were released by the RBI on Wednesday. “If growth remains robust and inflation prints continue to project headline inflation a year ahead well above the target, then a change in stance from “neutral” to “withdrawal of accommodation” might have to be considered,” he added.

•RBI, which has a mandate with keep retail inflation between 2% and 6%, decided at its sixth bimonthly policy review on February 7 to keep interest rates unchanged, while maintaining a neutral stance.

•While five MPC members voted to preserve the status quo, one of them recommended a 25 basis points rate increase.

•RBI Governor Urjit Patel observed that consumer price inflation — the main yardstick to determine policy rates — had accelerated for a six consecutive month in December and said inflation was getting generalised with rising input prices. “Inflation expectations have remained elevated,” Dr. Patel was cited as having said.

•Dr. Patel also said that since the economic recovery was at a nascent stage, a cautious approach was needed at this juncture.

📰 ‘Only M2M SIMs to have 13-digit numbers’

•Starting July 1, all SIM-based M2M (machine-to-machine) communication devices will carry a 13-digit number, instead of the 10-digit number now. However, this is applicable only to numbers used by machines to communicate with other machines and not normal retail mobile numbers.

•According to a letter that BSNL had sent to its hardware vendors ZTE and Nokia, the Department of Telecommunications, in a meeting on January 8 this year, decided that the 13-digit numbering scheme be implemented for M2M communication.

•The DoT had asked all telecom service providers to ensure that their network elements, including IT and other relevant systems, are aligned with the 13-digit numbering for M2M SIMs before July 1, 2018.

•BSNL said that the migration of existing M2M numbers, which have 10 digits as in the case of regular mobile phone numbers, to 13-digit numbers will start from October 1, 2018 and will be completed by December 31, 2018.

📰 ‘Niti Aayog working on new list of sick PSUs’

Four lists submitted so far, says Kant

•Niti Aayog is working on a new list of sick and loss-making Public Sector Units (PSUs) that could be privatised, said CEO Amitabh Kant.

•“Niti Aayog has already given recommendations with regard to strategic disinvestment of 40 PSUs. Department of Investment and Public Asset Management (DIPAM) is working on it and the process is in an advanced stage,” Mr. Kant said on Wednesday.

•He added that the Aayog had already prepared and given four lists of such PSUs and was “working on the fifth list.”

•The government has set a target of ₹80,000 crore from disinvestment proceeds in 2018-19.

Stake sales

•In the current fiscal, the government has earned more than ₹1 lakh crore from stake sales in public sector firms, as against the Budget estimate of ₹72,500 crore in 2017-18 for the disinvestment process. Minister of State for Planning Rao Inderjit Singh, who was also present at the conference, pointed out that the Budget allocation for Niti Aayog had been increased by more than 20% to ₹339.65 crore in 2018-19 from ₹279.79 crore in 2017-18.

📰 Magnificent launch

For Elon Musk, turning manned missions profitable might not be insurmountable

•On February 7, U.S. tech and automobiles billionaire Elon Musk made history when the Falcon Heavy, the world’s most powerful rocket, was successfully launched by SpaceX, a company he founded. The rocket’s payload was a cherry-red 2008 Tesla Roadster electric car with a mannequin wearing one of SpaceX’s spacesuits. The Roadster became the first automobile in deep space.

•The launch of Falcon Heavy opens a new frontier in space exploration, particularly interplanetary missions and manned missions to the moon in the next few years and possibly to Mars in the next couple of decades.

•The 230-ft-tall rocket with 2,500 tonnes of thrust, the equivalent of 18 Boeing 747 aircraft at full throttle, blasted into space with the capability of carrying as much as 64 tonnes of payload to low Earth orbit. This translates to doubling the maximum payload carrying capacity from 30 tonnes using the Delta IV Heavy. In comparison, the Indian Space Research Organisation’s GSLV Mark-III, the rocket with maximum payload carrying capacity, can hoist only about 10 tonnes payload to low Earth orbit.

•What makes Falcon Heavy even more attractive is, of course, the cost per launch. At $90 million, it is light on the pocket compared with Delta IV Heavy, which costs about $435 million per launch. It is sheer engineering brilliance that makes the Falcon Heavy cheaper to launch even when the payload carrying capacity is increased by a factor of two. While traditional boosters, which propel the rocket before getting detached, are discarded on falling back to Earth, SpaceX has found a way to bring the booster back to a predetermined place in a controlled fashion for a soft landing, so it can be reused. Since over 80% of rocket launch costs goes into building the rocket, reusing the boosters helps reduce the cost substantially.

•Of the three boosters used to lift the Falcon Heavy, the two side boosters landed perfectly at almost the same time on two landing pads at Cape Canaveral in Florida. The third booster splashed into the waters of the Atlantic Ocean.

•Despite a textbook takeoff, the Falcon Heavy will miss its date with Mars as it overshot its trajectory. Unlike India’s Mangalyaan, the Falcon Heavy joins the ranks of other Mars missions of space-faring countries to have missed reaching the Mars orbit on the very first attempt.

•For now, Falcon Heavy might not be a direct competitor to established space agencies for launching communication and other satellites as the focus is on the manned interplanetary mission. Herein lies the uncertainty. There is a great business opportunity in launching data-gathering satellites at a lower cost while profiting from manned missions is uncertain. Yet for Mr. Musk, who has been steadfast in his mission to build a rocket to reach Mars, and has achieved a technological breakthrough that even established space agencies have failed to accomplish, turning manned missions profitable might not be insurmountable.

📰 Meet Avani, first Indian woman to fly a fighter aircraft solo

•Scripting history, Flying Officer Avani Chaturvedi has become the first Indian woman to fly a fighter aircraft solo, an IAF official said.

•“Chaturvedi became the first Indian woman to fly a fighter aircraft solo when she flew a MiG-21 Bison,” the official said. She undertook the sortie from IAF’s Jamnagar base on Monday.

•Three women pilots — Ms. Chaturvedi, Bhawana Kanth and Mohana Singh — had undergone strenuous training programme to fly fighter jets.

•They were commissioned as Flying Officers in July 2016, less than a year after the government decided to open the fighter stream for women.

•The next batch of three women trainees have been chosen too.