The HINDU Notes – 23rd February 2018 - VISION

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Friday, February 23, 2018

The HINDU Notes – 23rd February 2018

📰 Saving lives

It needs political will for India to bring down its shamefully high newborn mortality rate

•A new country-wise ranking of neonatal mortality rates — the number of babies dying in their first month for every thousand live births — gives India cause for both hope and shame. Shame, because the report, produced by the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef), ranks India behind poorer countries such as Bangladesh, Nepal and Rwanda. Hope, because the ranking shows that financial resources are not the biggest constraint in improving this health indicator; political will is. According to the report, titled “Every Child Alive”, while average newborn mortality in low-income nations is nine times that of high-income ones, several countries buck the trend, showing a way forward for India. For example, Sri Lanka and Ukraine, which like India are categorised as lower-middle income economies, had a neonatal mortality of around 5/1000 in 2016. In comparison, the U.S., a high-income economy, did only slightly better with a rate of 3.7/1000. Meanwhile, Rwanda, which falls in the lowest income group of less than $1,005 per capita, has brought down its mortality rates from 41/1000 in the 1990s to 16.5 through programmes targeted at poor and vulnerable mothers. Money matters, but intent matters more.

•India saw the 31st highest newborn-mortality rate, at 25.4 deaths per 1000 in 2016, while Pakistan had the highest. Coming in after 30 countries is no comfort, however, because a small mortality rate can translate to numerous deaths when the birth-rate is high. This means India lost 640,000 babies in 2016, more than any other country. How can we chip away at this staggering number? The report points out that the most powerful solutions are not necessarily the most expensive. The 10 critical products that hospitals must stock to save newborns include a piece of cloth to keep a baby warm and close to the mother to encourage breastfeeding. The list also includes antibiotics and disinfectants, the use of which can stave off killers like sepsis and meningitis. But other solutions will need greater investment. The biggest cause of death is premature birth, while the second is complications like asphyxia during delivery. Preventing these would mean paying attention to the mother’s health during pregnancy and ensuring she delivers in a hospital attended by trained doctors or midwives. India has programmes such as the Janani Suraksha Yojana for this, but must expand its reach in laggard States like Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh. Then there are factors outside the healthcare system, like female literacy rates, that make a big difference to healthcare-seeking behaviour. But changes in education levels will come slowly. Despite these challenges, progress is within reach. States like Kerala and Tamil Nadu show that by focussing on these factors, newborn deaths can be brought to fewer than 15 per 1000 in Indian settings. It’s time for the rest of India to follow suit.

📰 Game-changer in quiet villages of Solapur

State livelihood programme gives women in 500 villages financial support as well as a say in family decisions

•Pune: Till two years ago, not a single woman in Waluj village of Mohol Taluka in Solapur district, 400 km from Mumbai, knew what a gram sabha was. Purdah was widely prevalent and women were labourers at home and farms.

•But just before the onset of summer last year, over 50 women marched to the gram sabha demanding job cards so they could get work under the Employment Guarantee Scheme. The gram panchayat had never seen such collective activism before and gave in immediately: within a month, all 50 protesters received job cards.

•The ground was prepared months before this. The women formed self help groups (SHGs) under Umed, a State-led initiative under the Maharashtra State Rural Livelihood Mission (SRLM), which in turn is part of National Rural Livelihood Mission. The programme aims to empower women by engaging them in innovative agricultural practices and giving them a steady source of income. Government officials at the village and block level mobilise women to avail of finance for their homes, farms or even small businesses. The NGO partner is Swayam Shikshan Prayog (SSP).

•Uma Mote, block coordinator of Waluj for SSP, says a lot has changed since. “Earlier, women had no say in decisions taken at home. Even if they did get elected to the gram sabha, they would simply follow their husbands or in-laws’ orders.”

The loan factor

•Money was the game-changer; women were not entitled to loans without attending SHG meetings, workshops and training programmes. “With the implementation of SRLM, women started receiving loans of at least a few thousand rupees. Their husbands can not sign on their behalf.”

•At the meetings, the NGO drew the women out to discuss and understand each other’s problems. The women soon realised they were doormats at home -- even if they need to buy slippers worth ₹10 with the money they earned they needed to take their husband or in-laws’ permission. And if they didn’t, they would be physically or verbally abused.

•Still, it wasn’t easy getting the women to attend regularly. “Women would often disappear. We had to spend a good amount of time and effort convincing them to stay. We also discussed their personal problems so they would open up and then join the group,” says Ms. Mote.

•Bit by bit, they began to come, to escape problems at home for a while, to make friends or just earn some money. Tabbasum Momin, programme manager, SSP, says women were asked to cultivate everything that could be consumed at home, on just one acre of the family farm. In the remaining land, the men could continue growing cash crops.

•Women began to cultivate over 20 types of produce, including vegetables, cereals, pulses and fruits. They did not have to invest in buying seeds, fertilisers or pesticides as they were taught how to make them the traditional way using crops like neem. Says Ms. Momin, “The women began to cultivate more than what they needed for the home. And naturally, they began to sell these.”

•When the women began to bring in an income, their husbands and families became more accepting. Says Ms. Mote, “Women began to earn through this model and men, who were growing cash crops in the way they were habituated to, continued to remain in debt. Naturally they started to respect women, followed in their footsteps and even helped them out.”

•Shashikala Janardan Mote is an example of the transformation. Her husband once beat her up in front of other women at an SHG meeting for attending it. “My husband believed women get spoilt if they go outside the home. But the cash-crop model consistently failed for him. He also saw how a loan was made available to me through the SHG and how other women were earning an income. He later not only allowed me to join the SHG but also carry out organic farming on our land.”

•Ms. Mote and 20 other women cultivate okra. Every alternate day, they send nearly 1,000 kg to the market in Pune, 250 km away. Every time Uma Mote met other women at district-level SHG meetings, she began selling them organic seeds. More women now sell biofertilisers, biopesticides, animal products among other things at these meetings.

Strength in numbers

•Beyond their homes and farms, a deeper change was taking root. For years, the women were being short changed as labour on other people’s farms. They needed a job guarantee and fixed wages under the Employment Guarantee Act to be able to work in summer.

•Last year, two women approached the gram panchayat for the job cards but were turned away. The women did not let the rejection get to them. They got 48 others together, marched to the gram sabha and demanded the cards. Says Ms. Mote, “Men in the gram panchayat were visibly tense. They knew women should be allowed to speak but were not ready to give them the power. They were now cornered.” The women also pressured the gram panchayat to provide filtered water to all the households in the village.

•Ms. Momin says 50 to 100 women from each of the 500 villages covered under the experiment have benefitted from the model. “We plan to cover 900 villages by the end of 2019.”

•Komal Kokate, a beneficiary in Hingalajwadi, Osmanabad district, said, “Women have started an information centre at the village where organic farming techniques are taught to everybody who visits it. We now work along with the local gram panchayat, whose members guide farmers to visit theinformation centre to learn about organic farming. They also organise sessions for them.”

•Nagesh Davane, block manager, Umed, Osmanabad, says many in his villagehave got land transferred in their names following this experiment.

•Parvati Narkhede, a widow from Masala Khurd village in Tulajapur block of Osmanabad, says, “Following implementation of the model almost five years ago, women started to earn a handsome amount that led men in the village to change their patriarchal mindset. There are at least five families wherein husbands or in-laws have transferred part of the land in the women’s names. This year, 150 of us have registered our own Vijayalaxmi Agriculture Producer Company, and have begun selling seeds to farmers.”

•More than the financial progress though, the women have understood their strength in numbers.

📰 Canada, India red-faced over invite to Khalistan activist

Jaspal Atwal, involved in shooting Punjab Minister, was in Canadian delegation

•Visiting Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s office and the Modi government faced a major embarrassment on Thursday after it emerged that a convicted terrorist and Khalistan activist from Canada had been part of the delegation’s events in Mumbai and was personally invited to a reception by the Canadian High Commission in Delhi.

At multiple events

•The controversy surfaced after photographs of the invitation to the event in honour of Mr. Trudeau at “Canada House” in Delhi on Thursday as well as the event on Tuesday in Mumbai appeared in Canadian media.

•The Canadian High Commission said it had “rescinded” the invitation to Jaspal Atwal, an Indian-origin businessman, and former member of the banned International Sikh Youth Federation (ISYF), thought to be responsible, along with the Babbar Khalsa, for the 1985 mid-air bombing of Air India flight 182, killing 329 persons.

•Mr. Atwal was one of four men convicted for shooting Punjab Minister Malkiat Singh Sidhu in 1986 during a private visit to Canada. Though the verdict was overturned, Mr. Atwal admitted to the parole board that he was the shooter that day, Canadian media reported.

•Calling the invitation a mistake, Mr. Trudeau said it had been sent by a member of the Canadian parliament. The Ministry of External Affairs said it was inquiring into how the Indian High Commission in Canada had issued Mr. Atwal a visa.

📰 Talk like a South Asian

Democracy in India cannot exist without the extension of the democratic imagination to the region

•The Maldives imbroglio has become a fable for international politics. Politics, especially international politics, often appears to be an eerie combination of slapstick and farce. One sees an exhibition of egos, of the sheer pomposity of power barely hidden behind sanctimonious words like national interest and security. Whenever Chinese one-upmanship finesses India in the neighbourhood, we fall back on exercises in pedantry, unaware that India cuts a sorry figure in the local political scene. Our obsession with Pakistan and China makes us indifferent to other countries in the neighbourhood. South Asia as place, as a bubbling culture of diversity, gets converted to space or at the most to turf or territory. The future of India as a South Asian imagination becomes dim as India turns hysterical over China’s entry into the Maldives. Yet three things are obvious. We have no sense of the Maldives. We treat their politicians as vassals who have become rebels. We are almost orientalist in our attitudes to islands like the Maldives, Mauritius, treating them as lesser orders of political reality. It is as if the annexation of Sikkim is our chosen model for South Asian politics.

A limiting framework

•One thing is clear. Not much can be expected within the current framework of policy, where categories like security operate in a Pavlovian style and India acts only when it sees a Pakistani or Chinese move. The current frameworks and mentalities add little to policy. India needs to see South Asia as a new imaginary if the idea of India and Indian foreign policy is to succeed.

•South Asia is a tapestry of myriad ecologies from islands to mountains, a confluence of civilisations, religions and regions. India is today the dominant power, but beyond a sense of hegemony, it plays bully and Mr. Simplicissimus. One needs to add the power of these diverse imaginations to an emerging hybridity called India. Consider a few examples. During the recent Cyclone Ockhi, a priest told me, we are fisherman, we think from sea to land but we are run by a land-locked regime. An understanding of island geographies could broaden into ecological imagination, create new imaginaries to unlock India’s land-locked mindset. An island imaginary adds as much to our imagination and alters our attitude to marginal people on our coastlines.

•Watching South Asia, one senses India lacks of a sense of neighbourhood and region as a component of our imagination. Take Kathmandu. The similarities between India and Nepal are immense, and yet India lacks any comprehension of Nepal’s fierce sense of itself. By playing big brother, India repeatedly displays a lack of sense of the diversities around which need a new sense of unity. By acting as a bully or an un-empathetic headmaster wielding the stick, India reveals an absence of its South Asian self. It issues warnings to the Maldives or Nepal, threatening them not to be seduced by the Chinese imperative, but it does little to sustain the reciprocity and autonomy of the relationship. A change in tactics is not enough; one needs a sense of strategy, a paradigmatic argument for a new South Asia which adds to the creativity of Indian democracy.

Time for renewal

•Reflecting on this context, one is reminded of a South African proverb which says one must invent a stranger to renew oneself. The stranger is the other that renews the self, reveals the unities and reciprocities behind difference. In the South Asian context, India must adapt these words of wisdom by inventing and reinventing the neighbour every day. It has to invent a South Asia which is civilisational, reciprocal, local in its diversity. Merely thinking as a nation state reveals the procrustean nature of the Indian mind, making it a victim of 19th century mindsets.

•Even experiments which could have been promising have lost their creative power. One of the most exciting of these regional ideas was the creation of the South Asian University (SAU), with a faculty from all South Asian countries. While we have the faculty, what we lack is a South Asian theory of culture and knowledge which should anchor this imagination. SAU looks like any other university, part of the embassy set in South Delhi. It needs a manifesto which makes South Asia central to its imagination. Such a manifesto must transform ecology and culture into a theory of South Asian diversity and difference. The borderland, the frontier, the island, the riverine communities have to anchor a local imagination which diversifies South Asia as a region. Out of ecology should emerge a creative sense of regionalism as a new style of ecological politics rather than treating the region as a lesser order of politics in a global regime.

•Second, the availability of eccentricity as dissent, alternatives, minorities has to be reworked constitutionally so the focus is not on trite obsessions with India-Pakistan but a genuine exploration of voices and theories. One has to weave ideas of Swadeshi and Swaraj into foreign policy, where South Asia creates the availability of vernaculars. SAU as a dialogue of ecologies, religions, vernaculars located in a civilisational frame can add to the ideas of knowledge, sustain memories and defeated cultures without getting bogged in the modern sentimentality called development. South Asia as a concept to be sustainable and creative has to be life-giving.

•Diversity becomes the next axis of the South Asia imagination. Between its demographic density and its ethnic diversity, South Asia offers an experiment in religious dialogue, an exercise in the cultivation of informal economies, a surge for human rights where culture and livelihoods become central. The creativity of civil society and social movements marks the dynamism of these regions. In fact, South Asia is going to become a site for the growing battle between human rights/cultural diversity and the fundamentalist imagination.

•South Asia, with its motley collection of minorities, has to rethink the question of the border and border crossings which are so crucial to the survival of these groups. One is thinking not only of the Rohingya, but the Rohingya as a paradigm for border crossings. We need an open idea of hospitality and the nation so ethnic imaginations do not merely become destabilising but provide new vernaculars of the imagination in terms of inventive notions of citizenship, livelihood and regionalism. One has to allow for tribal, ethnic, nomadic and pastoral groups moving freely without being hounded by the panopticon called the boundary.

A warning signal

•One has to be clear it is not the immediacy and constant intrusiveness of China or the bellicosity of Pakistan which can trigger a new South Asian identity and imagination. Security is too narrow and provincial a base either for the sustenance of diversity or for the promotion of peace. The so-called imbroglio of the Maldives must be a warning signal to persuade civil society groups like human rights activists, media, university academics to articulate a new idea of South Asian identity and democracy, to revive the neighbourhood as an imagination, when globalism is turning colourless. We need a movement from muscular diplomacy, which we are poor at, to a diplomacy of diversity for the South Asian imagination and drama to be reinvented again. Democracy in India cannot exist without the extension of the democratic imagination to the region. South Asia as an imaginary becomes text and the pretext for such an experiment. An India with a new South Asian identity triggers a new imagination beyond the dullness of security and nation state.

📰 Bilateral trade must benefit poor: Justin Trudeau

Canadian PM also says diversity spurs innovation.

•Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Thursday said while the focus of his country's relations with India has shifted from aid in the 1950s to trade today, it was important to ensure that greater bilateral trade and investment benefits all, especially the poor.

•Speaking at the India Canada Business Session organised by the industry body CII along with Canada-India Business Council and Indo-Canadian Business Chamber, Mr. Trudeau pointed out that so far “too many people” have not been beneficiaries of trade and investment. He emphasised that “economic growth must benefit and investment must benefit the poor.”

•Terming democracy and diversity as common factors for India and Canada, he said, “If you want to progress as a community, you should not just tolerate diversity but champion it.”

•“Diversity, including of religion and gender, enriches us, make our communities stronger and more resilient,” he said, adding that diversity opens societies to new ways of thinking and spurs innovation. In this regard, the Prime Minister cited Toronto in Canada and Bengaluru in India as examples of multi-cultural cities that are also hi-tech hubs.

•He said Canada and India need to capitalise on people-to-people ties, and leverage business and knowledge networks.

•This week alone saw business deals of over $1billion between companies of both the nations that will in turn create many good jobs, he said. To improve business ties, he also referred to the benefits of Canada’s ‘startup visa program’ to start businesses in Canada, and its ‘global skills strategy’ to help firms recruit and bring talent to Canada at a short notice.

•Earlier, speaking on the occasion, Harsimrat Kaur Badal, Union Food Processing Industries Minister, thanked Mr. Trudeau for bringing with him a huge delegation including senior Ministers, especially “those members from my community who have done us proud in your land”. She also thanked the Canadian premier for “all the support you have given to our community”. The Minister then said food processing was a major sector with huge scope for collaboration between India and Canada.

📰 India, Canada hold strategic dialogue

•Ahead of Friday’s India-Canada bilateral summit, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland held a strategic dialogue here on Thursday covering a wide range of bilateral issues.

•In a tweet, External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Raveesh Kumar tweeted that the two leaders “had wide ranging discussions on strengthening relations in trade and investment, security and cyber security, energy, people-to-people contacts and other relevant bilateral and regional issues.”

•Ms. Freeland arrived here on Wednesday evening ahead of the bilateral summit between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Canadian counterpart Justin Trudeau.

•Thursday’s meeting was held amid wide speculation of Mr. Modi and his government cold-shouldering Mr. Trudeau during his eight-day state visit to India that started on February 17.

Frosty ties

•Ties between New Delhi and Ottawa have been frosty in recent times as Canada is being seen as offering a platform to separatists demanding an independent Khalistan.

•The visiting dignitary and his family have visited Agra, Ahmedabad, Mumbai and Amritsar but Mr. Modi has not yet issued any welcome statement or tweet.

📰 India is ignoring facts, says Maldives

•India’s public statements regarding the suspension of democracy in the Maldives have ignored facts and ground realities, the government of President Abdulla Yameen said on Thursday.

•The statement, which came a day after India’s sharp comments against the extension of emergency rule in the country, urged cooperation from the international community.

‘Clear distortion’

•“..the public statements issued by the Government of India.. ignore the facts and ground realities with regard to the ongoing political developments in the Maldives. The assertion by India that the extension of the state of Emergency by the People’s Majlis was unconstitutional is a clear distortion of facts which ignore the Constitution and Laws of the Maldives,” stated a press release from Male.

•The Government of Maldives said the declaration of Emergency was backed by Article 253 of the Constitution, which empowers the President of the nation to protect national security with suspension of democracy.

•“The Supreme Court had cleared the validity of the Emergency in its ruling on 21 February, 2018,” said the statement.

•The exchange comes days after former President Mohammed Nasheed called upon India to intervene to restore democracy. Mr. Nasheed visited India last week to participate in a conversation on foreign affairs in ‘The Huddle’, a forum on contemporary issues organised by The Hindu.

📰 Pakistan moves against terrorists “superficial, reversible”: U.S

Trump regime places the onus on Islamabad, says can’t expect India to talk before action against LeT, JeM

•The Donald Trump administration is not satisfied with the measures taken by Pakistan in recent months to crack down on terrorist groups, a senior U.S official has said. “So far, these steps have been reversible, superficial, and steps that we have actually seen them take in the past, in periods of high pressure,” the official told The Hindu in an exclusive conversation on background.

•The official said the U.S was concerned about tensions between India and Pakistan, “two nuclear armed states,” but added that the onus was on Pakistan to create conditions conducive for talks and improvement in relations.

•The official said the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) plenary in Paris was yet to take a decision on action against Islamabad on the question of terrorism financing. “My understanding is that the FATF discussions are ongoing, FATF is aimed at ensuring that the countries are implementing the statutes and the laws that are necessary to counter terrorist financing, money laundering and those sort of things…” the official said, refusing the elaborate more, since the meetings were still on.

‘Zero tolerance towards terrorism’

•The Trump administration has zero tolerance towards terrorism, and terrorist sanctuaries inside Pakistan, said the official. “President Trump has been clear that we need to see decisive action, not superficial action and half measures.. but decisive action against terrorist militants in Pakistan,” said the official.

•The official said the U.S had been “very clear with Pakistan about our expectations.”

•“We have been very specific and detailed in what we expect Pakistan to do, in our numerous visits of senior officials as well as several phone calls between senior military officials on both sides. So I think Pakistan understands what we are looking for. Unfortunately we have not seen the strategic shift in behavior that we are seeking..We have seen some responses..What we have seen is that they definitely want to be seen as taking action..Which is good..They are not completely thumping their nose at the U.S…They are taking steps, and they want to be seen as responsive.” However, the U.S has not seen “that determination, in really going after terrorist leaders that operate freely on their territory,” the official said.

On India-Pakistan ties

•Asked about the current state of India- Pakistan relations and its impact on the U.S policy for the region, the official said: “We are concerned about the status of India-Pakistan relations. Two nuclear armed states… we know there is potential for things to escalate very quickly, and we are very concerned about terrorist groups that continue to function inside Pakistan, and have the the ability to conduct terrorist attacks inside India. We are concerned about the situation. But until Pakistan really demonstrates seriousness in cracking down on LeT or Jaish-e-Mohammad, there is not going to be that conducive atmosphere for any dialogue or talks to take place.”

•The official noted that Prime Minister Narendra Modi had reached out and traveled to Pakistan in 2015. “…and six days later you had the major attack on Pathankot. I think there is probably some hesitation in India about reaching out and the potential impact or backlash to any effort to reach out to Pakistan. Situation between Indian and Pakistan, it is really not moving forward, and I think this is unfortunate, but we need to see Pakistan demonstrate that it is serious about cracking down on LeT and JeM,” said the official.

‘Moving in the wrong direction’

•“Frankly, they are moving in the wrong direction. The release of Hafiz Muhammad last November was a step in the wrong direction. We will continue to monitor the situation have skirmishes, almost on a daily basis. (But) we don’t have any interest in trying to mediate the dispute over Kashmir. That is something for the two sides to deal with. We are not seeking any kind of role.”

•Asked whether the U.S put the onus on Pakistan to improve relations, the official said: “You cannot expect a country to be interested in negotiations when there is threat of terrorist groups conducting an attack whenever they see that. So, I think there is an expectation that Pakistan is serious in cracking down on these terrorist groups.”

📰 Two Benches refer land acquisition cases to CJI

Move follows Justice K. Joseph’s call for ‘judicial discipline’

•A day after Justice Kurian Joseph voiced his concern over a February 8 judgment on land acquisition, two separate Supreme Court Benches, led by Justice Arun Mishra and Justice A.K. Goel, on Thursday referred certain land acquisition cases so far heard by them, to Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra to take a call.

•Both Benches of Justices Mishra and Goel ordered the cases referred by them to be posted before an “appropriate” Bench on February 23 itself, as per the orders of the Chief Justice.

•Justice Kurian’s oral remarks made in open court — about “tinkering with judicial discipline” and the need for Supreme Court judges to function as “one” — were in connection with a 2:1 majority judgment on land acquisition delivered by a three-judge Bench, led by Justice Mishra, on February 8, 2018. Justice Goel was also part of Justice Mishra’s Bench and had formed the majority opinion in the February 8 judgment.

On compensation

•The February 8 judgment delivered by Justice Mishra’s Bench concerned compensation paid to land-owners, mostly farmers, when their lands were acquired. In their majority opinion, Justices Mishra and Goel had termed a 2014 judgment delivered by another three-judge Bench of then Chief Justice R.M. Lodha, Justices Madan B. Lokur and Justice Kurian as per incuriam . That is, they held that the 2014 judgment was rendered without care for facts and the law.

📰 Cannot annul marriage between adults: SC

‘Hadiya said she had married by choice’

•Courts cannot annul marriages between two consenting adults or resort to a “roving enquiry” on whether the married relationship between a man and a woman is based on consent, the Supreme Court said on Thursday.

•A Bench, led by Chief Justice Dipak Misra, defined the limits of the court’s jurisdiction in the Hadiya case. Ms. Hadiya, a 26-year-old homoeopathy student, had converted to Islam and then married a Muslim.

•“Can a court say a marriage is not genuine or whether the relationship is not genuine? Can a court say she [Hadiya] did not marry the right person? She came to us and told us that she married of her own accord,” Justice D.Y. Chandrachud observed.

•The Kerala High Court had annulled Ms. Hadiya’s marriage to Shafin Jahan.

•Her father, Asokan K.M., alleged that she had been indoctrinated by a “well-oiled network,” involved in recruiting Indian citizens and trafficking them abroad to strife-prone countries like Syria to work as “sex slaves”.

•“She said on the telephone to her father that she wants to go to Syria to rear sheep. There may be fathers who receive such news with calm and fortitude, but this father was alarmed,” senior advocate Shyam Divan, for Asokan, addressed the Bench. Mr. Divan said Hadiya was a victim of an “enormous trafficking exercise”.

•Justice D.Y. Chandrachud countered that if there was trafficking of citizens involved, the govt. had the power to stop it on the basis of credible information. If citizens were travelling abroad to be part of a manifest illegality, then too, the government had the authority to stop them. “But in personal law, we cannot annul marriages because she did not marry the right person,” he asked Mr. Divan.

📰 SC against disclosure of IAS prelims marks

Decision on UPSC’s appeal against HC

•The Supreme Court has held that details of marks — raw and scaled — scored in the Civil Services Exam cannot be “mechanically” disclosed under Right to Information.

•A Bench of Justices A.K. Goel and U.U. Lalit observed that the need for transparency and accountability championed by the Right to Information Act should be balanced by the requirement of confidentiality of sensitive information.

•The decision came on an appeal filed by the Union Public Service Commission against a Delhi High Court order to divulge the marks on the basis of a petition filed by unsuccessful candidates of the Civil Services (Preliminary) Examination, 2010 (CSP).

•The petitioners had sought the disclosure of marks (raw and scaled) awarded to them in the CSP 2010. They wanted information on cut-off marks for each subject, scaling methodology, model answers and the results of all candidates.

•“Weighing the need for transparency and accountability and requirement of optimum use of fiscal resources and confidentiality of sensitive information, we are of the view that information sought with regard to marks in Civil Services Exam cannot be directed to be furnished mechanically.”

📰 Is the Supreme Court verdict on Cauvery fair?

Some glaring concerns in the 2007 tribunal order have been addressed

•With an additional allocation of 14.75 thousand million cubic feet (tmc ft) of water to Karnataka, the Supreme Court has given the State reason to rejoice. The order is fair and does not take away anything significant from Tamil Nadu. What it has done is to address some concerns that were present in the 2007 order of the Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal, such as of drinking water in Bengaluru and the constraints of irrigation in southern Karnataka.

•There is much to be satisfied with in what has been allotted to Karnataka in the recent order. On many points, the Court validates the objections raised by Karnataka to the 2007 tribunal order.

Allocation for Bengaluru

•For instance, the court makes it clear that the contentious 1924 agreement had lapsed. It noticed that the State did not have bargaining power at the time of entering the said agreement. Yet, post-Independence, Karnataka chose not to denounce the agreement. While the agreement cannot be called “unconscionable”, as Karnataka had not raised objections to it after Independence, the court observed that several clauses in the 1924 agreement did not indicate permanency, and had lapsed after 50 years, by 1974. The court also rightly observed that the overall population of river basin States has to be placed on a pedestal, and be taken into account as a fundamental principle for equitable distribution.

•Keeping this in mind, the court acknowledges the need for a higher share of Cauvery water for Bengaluru, which now has more than 10 million inhabitants. The 2007 tribunal order had reduced Karnataka’s share for the sole reason that only one-third of Bengaluru falls within the river basin, and that 50% of the drinking water supply would be met through groundwater. The Supreme Court rightly notes that the tribunal’s view ignores the basic principle pertaining to drinking water. Keeping in mind the global status that Bengaluru has attained, an additional 4.75 tmc ft has been awarded to it in order to implement the existing water supply schemes. The remaining 10 tmc ft can be used to expand agricultural activities.

•Does this additional allocation deprive Tamil Nadu? No. While lowering the allocation of surface water, the Supreme Court has ruled that a minimum of 10 tmc ft of groundwater is available in the Cauvery delta for safe use by Tamil Nadu. This had been ignored in the tribunal order.

Pending issues

•However, there are certain issues in the order that need to be addressed. The Inter-State Water Disputes (ISWD) Act, 1956 stipulates that besides the chairperson and two former High Court or Supreme Court judges appointed by the Chief Justice of India, a minimum of two assessors (technical experts) are to assist the tribunal. While the Supreme Court sought the assistance of technical experts in the coal scam and the iron ore mining case, it has not done so in the Cauvery dispute. Prime among these unresolved issues is the framing of a deficit formula for sharing water, and construction of hydel projects on the common boundary of the river. For instance, Karnataka plans a run-of-the-flow Mekedatu hydel project. The status of this project is yet to be decided within the framework of the judgment.

•Similarly, issues of climate change and allocation of regenerated and surplus water have not been considered. As a result, basin States like Karnataka will continue to knock at the doors of the Supreme Court for redress.

📰 An umbrella for the consumer

A new bill seeks to give protection online and offline

•As online transactions become a way of life, the Consumer Protection Bill, 2018 is a step towards providing ordinary consumers some protection of their interests and establishing points for quick and effective administration and settlement of disputes.

•The pending Bill, which will replace the Consumer Protection Act, 1986, defines the “consumer” as a person who buys any good or avails a service for a consideration. The Bill covers transactions, both online and offline, and includes tele-shopping and multi-level marketing.

•The definition of “consumer rights” in the Bill exhaustively covers the right to be protected against the marketing of goods, products or services that are hazardous to life and property. It also focusses on the right to be informed about the quality, quantity, potency, purity, standard and price of goods, products or services, as the case may be, so as to protect a consumer against unfair trade practices. It also includes the right to be assured, wherever possible, of access to a variety of goods, products or services at competitive prices. More importantly, it involves the right to seek redress against unfair or restrictive trade practices, or unscrupulous exploitation of consumers.

•The Bill’s salient features include establishment of an executive agency to be known as the Central Consumer Protection Authority (CCPA) to promote, protect and enforce the rights of the consumers. The Bill proposes to empower the CCPA to investigate, recall, refund and impose penalties. The Bill provides for product liability action in cases of personal injury, death or property damage caused by or resulting from any product, and mediation as an alternate dispute resolution, making the process of dispute adjudication simpler and quicker.

•The CCPA is also empowered to deal with unfair trade practices and misleading advertisements. The CCPA is to be headed by a Chief Commissioner.

•The Bill seeks to set up a monitoring cell, to be constituted by the president of the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission to oversee the functioning of the State consumer commissions from the administrative point of view. The Bill provides for a State government to establish a consumer mediation cell to be attached to each of the district commissions and the State commissions. Further, the Bill proposes that the Centre establishes a consumer mediation cell to be attached to the National Commission.

📰 The next innovation

Blockchain could enable substantial economic transformation in India

•Blockchain could be the least elucidated among the disruptive technologies rapidly transforming the world around us. It is widely known that some of the most valuable companies of our times, such as Uber and Airbnb, are effective aggregators of resources, including cars and apartments. They are using the Internet to reach out, and match the supply and demand in a global market.

•Although the architecture of the blockchain is far more complex than these aggregators, the underlying principle is not that different. It can be described as a way for people to share the extra space and computational power in their computers to create a global super-computer that is accessible to everyone. The blockchain lets people who are part of this super-computer perform functions such as verification of transactions and contracts, and the updating and maintenance of these records in the form of trustworthy ledgers, tasks that are normally reserved for established intermediary organisations such as banks and legal firms, and be rewarded for it. This core feature of the blockchain creates a space for trusted transactions in the digital space that have never been possible before.

•The cryptocurrency Bitcoin is the first successful application of this technology. Even though there are mixed standpoints regarding the credibility, scalability and practicality of digital currencies, the core technology behind them, blockchain, undoubtedly has tremendous value. Annual global economic output is over $90 trillion, with almost 3% of the amount going to various financial toll collectors such as banks, and credit card platforms.

•Blockchain technology could drastically cut down, or even eliminate, these transaction charges by replacing the intermediaries, thereby creating hundreds of billions, or even trillions, of yearly savings. This is a significant amount that could be used for other economically and socially productive purposes.

Potential for banking

•Understanding this cost-saving potential, several international banks and state-owned banks in Russia, Saudi Arabia and the UAE have started working on blockchain-powered financial solutions. The Indian government and Finance Ministry’s lackadaisical approach towards this technology could make our banks less competitive in the long run, when compared to their international counterparts.

•Blockchain applications could be further extended to sectors such as insurance, law, real estate and digital art, and could be used to further strengthen our national institutions, including the judiciary and the Election Commission.

•The potential of blockchain to bring about substantial economic transformation is the mirror image of the way the Internet revolutionised commerce, media and advertising in the previous decade. India should effectively channel its technical human capital surplus to position itself as one of the pioneers during this upcoming wave of innovation.

📰 DoT’s plan to spur synergy among 7 PSUs

Dept.’s strategic plan includes optimal use of human resources, vacant land and dispute resolution

•The government on Thursday unveiled a ‘strategic plan’ to enable seven state-owned companies under the Department of Telecom (DoT) to work closely with an aim of promoting greater operational synergy among them, including pooling in of resources and effective utilisation of human resources as well as land and buildings.

•The action plan covers MTNL, BSNL, Indian Telephone Industries (ITI), Centre for Development of Telematics (CDOT), Telecommunications Consultants India Ltd. (TCIL), Testing and Certification of Telecom Equipments (TEC) and BharatNet (BBNL). “Under the plan, we have identified specific areas where our teams will work on including manpower, settlement of legal issues and utilisation of vacant space,” Telecom Minster Manoj Sinha said. He, however, added there were no plans to merge BSNL and MTNL for now.

•“There is no thinking in the government on merging the two. But we are taking steps to ensure that collaboration between MTNL and BSNL strengthens and benefits both the organisations,” he told reporters. MTNL shares rose 7.78% to ₹24.25 per share while the ITI scrip climbed 2.13% to ₹126.90 on the BSE.

•Work for the strategic plan began in January 2016 when a core committee of senior officers was formed to look into “the whole issue of synergy in totality and prepare a comprehensive plan covering various issues affecting the functioning of different organisations.”

•The strategic plan, finalised after several discussions between all stakeholders, entails effective utilisation of human resources, optimum use of vacant space and promoting ‘Make in India’, among other things.

Training manpower

•Some units have excess manpower whereas others face a shortage, the minister explained. Under the plan, the Centre intended to train and redeploy manpower, he said.

•Also, telecom PSUs will refrain from going to court against one another and, instead, first approach DoT for resolution of disputes. The strategic roadmap will also cover other areas such as standards and certification, and preparing to tap opportunities in areas like 5G and Internet of Things.

•These PSUs will also look at pooling in resources to address new business opportunities in Digital India, Smart City and Internet of things, and develop mechanism for sharing of revenues and expenses.

📰 Planning for electric mobility

Transitioning to an electric vehicle-based regime will be difficult, but well worth it

•In October 2017, the Lancet Commission on Pollution and Health, published by the peer-reviewed Lancet medical journals, attributed to air pollution an estimated 6.5 million premature deaths globally, with 1.1 million being from India. Dreadful as these figures were, they were not surprising, considering that back in 2014, the World Health Organisation’s urban air quality database had found four Indian cities to be among the world’s 10 most polluted. The database also placed 10 Indian cities in the 20 worst list.

Big savings

•There are multiple reasons for India’s deteriorating air quality. In urban India, emissions from motor vehicles are among the prime reasons. Acknowledging the challenge of rising vehicular pollution in Indian cities, Piyush Goyal, then Union Minister for Power, said that from 2030, India would completely shift to using electric vehicles (EVs). The push for electric mobility was backed by the government think-tank, NITI Aayog, which has estimated that the nation can save up to Rs. 4 lakh crore by rapidly adopting EVs.

•While transitioning from an internal combustion engine (ICE)-based regime to an EV-based one is expected to be a painful process, the long-term benefits could outweigh the hardships significantly in the wake of India’s ambitious renewable energy plans.

•Today, as the NITI Aayog lays stress on the need for a robust action plan to move towards electric mobility by 2030, India needs to address five fundamental issues immediately.

•The first is about who will take the lead. EVs, unlike ICE vehicles, involve several actors at the national, State and city levels, respectively. In the first, it needs multiple ministries such as Road Transport and Highways, Housing and Urban Affairs, Heavy Industries, Power, New and Renewable Energy, External Affairs as well as national institutes such as NITI Aayog. Also, since the initial EV revolution would predominantly be an urban one, State and city-level players need to be involved so as to address several technical and infrastructural needs. Coordination between all three is crucial in driving the EV agenda.

•The second is figuring out the best mode forward. China has focussed on the use of electric buses as a catalyst for EV penetration. It is the largest electric bus manufacturer in the world, with most in use in the country. In 2016 alone, about 80,000 electric buses were added to China’s roads. The Netherlands, on the other hand, has captured the EV market using a simple yet well-crafted strategy of creating charging infrastructure and encouraging investment in charging technology by providing incentives to EV buyers. Today, it has the densest charging infrastructure in the world and is a major exporter of this technology.

•These two case studies show that sustained growth is possible only due to positive economic impacts of EVs. India is today the largest manufacturer and exporter of two-wheelers and auto-rickshaws. Could these vehicles pave the way for an EV revolution?

•The third is the battery conundrum. The assumption that anyone who controls the battery will control electric mobility rings true in the current scenario. India does not produce lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries currently, and companies making battery packs are dependent almost exclusively on imports from China. This is a cost-saving strategy as setting up a cell manufacturing unit in India would be expensive. Accelerating EV use in India should be linked to the “Make in India” goal and domestic battery production. Investment is required for research and development in battery-making and exploring alternative technologies.

•The fourth is about charging infrastructure. EV charging is more than just using electricity. It involves exchange of information requiring a communication protocol. There is no unique or single-charging technology for EVs. The three major EV users, China, Japan and the European Union, have their own charging technologies which are often conflicting and not interchangeable.

•The absence of a standard global infrastructure is a major deterrent for EV penetration in India, as creating infrastructure can be cost-intensive. For this, the government needs to select or develop appropriate charging technology that avoids multiplicity and reduces the cost of infrastructure, while making it convenient and safe for users.

•The final point is about jobs and the economic impact. India is the world’s fourth largest fifth auto market, where over 25 million motor vehicles are produced. The sector is estimated to provide direct and indirect employment to about three crore people and accounts for 7.1% of the nation’s GDP. The industry is estimated to grow to $300 billion in annual revenue by 2026, creating 65 million additional jobs, and contributing over 12% to the GDP.

A road map

•A thorough qualitative and quantitative estimation of the new jobs the EV sector will create would go a long way in negating apprehensions and securing the pathway for EV technology and use.

•EVs have the potential to disrupt the mobility ecosystem, and, if implemented well, could have a positive impact on the economy as well as the urban environment. India, however, needs a road map, with timelines, processes, well-researched impact studies, bold initiatives and robust investments in technological research to turn its EV dream into reality.

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