The HINDU Notes – 01st March 2018 - VISION

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Thursday, March 01, 2018

The HINDU Notes – 01st March 2018

📰 Halving the syllabus, squaring knowledge

It’s not the syllabus that burdens children, but our cramming-driven examination system

•There’s a scene in the film Amadeus where Austrian Emperor Joseph II, looking to stall a promotion for Wolfgang Mozart, commends him on the beautiful music he’d composed for a play. The piece was “brilliant and strikingly original”, except that there were “too many notes” and therefore needed to be cut, according to the emperor. “Which ones, your Majesty?” Mozart demanded to know leaving the emperor fumbling. Hopefully Human Resource Development Minister Prakash Javadekar will have planned out portions of the curriculum that need surgical strikes when he implements his plan of “halving” the school syllabus and know precisely what parts of the history, mathematics, science, Hindi syllabi need to be done away with.

The magic wand?

•In a television interview last week, he claimed that the syllabus needed trimming as it had become as weighty as that for an undergraduate arts or commerce degree, and it was leaving children with no time for extra-curricular activities.

•In the same interview, Mr. Javadekar said he’d bring back the system of “detention and examinations” in lower classes that the previous United Progressive Alliance government had done away with, under the impression that the sight of lighter school bags and an exam-free childhood would miraculously output happier children (and the votes of their grateful parents).

•That an information-overload is stunting our children’s all-round development draws rare consensus among political parties. Even the judiciary seems to concur.

•Delhi’s Education Minister, Manish Sisodia said in 2015 that schools’ syllabus for the 9th to 12th standards would be cut by a quarter and eschew “outdated material” and leave more time for music, theatre and leisure. The Bombay High Court, last June, suggested that mathematics be made an optional for 10th standard students as lots of students were failing them and those in arts programmes didn’t need maths in their programmes.

•The common thread in these palliatives is that an enormous work load is the cause of stress among schoolchildren and halving the syllabus would translate into fewer hours of course work and cramming. This fails to acknowledge that the culprit is a system that encourages mindless cramming as the dominant indicator of ‘learning’.

•Thus, Mr. Javadekar only seems to be the latest in the line of establishment figures signalling that the government will not work towards fixing the blood-sport that examinations are, where the loss or gain of a mark can mean children are forced into careers they have no inclination or aptitude for, and at its worst drive young people to suicide.

•There’s already research to show that academic anxiety, the attendant stress and the volume of course load are disconnected. Some years ago 100 8th standard students in Chandigarh and Mohali were asked to report their states of mind when studying, playing, watching television, etc for a week. The researchers reported that while schoolwork induced “negative subjective states”, those who spent more time in leisure activities noted feeling happier but also registered “higher academic anxiety and lower scholastic achievement.” Worries about performance were thus never far from the students’ minds, says the 2002 study (‘School Stress in India: Effects on time and daily emotions’, International Journal of Behavioral Development).

•Given that the global economy is geared towards knowledge production, children’s syllabi are unlikely to ever contract simply because new discoveries and the re-interpretation of old knowledge continuously filter their way from research papers to graduate level dissertations to undergraduate curricula and eventually school textbooks. Two decades ago, it was possible to graduate from elite urban English-medium schools without knowing a programming language and while Darwinian evolution has long been high-school stuff, man-made climate change is already creeping into middle school examinations.

The checklist

•So when policy-makers sit to decide on the portions of syllabi that need junking, where would they begin? Logarithms? Because who needs a log-table to multiply big numbers, but then it’s the concept of logarithms that helps conveniently illustrate a 10,000-year history of warming trends in the globe. Or maybe they would chop out redundant historical bits of the events leading up to India’s freedom movement? The recent controversy over the theory of evolution shows that even at the highest level of government, there are influential people who haven’t quite understood why biological evolution is a necessary part of making sense of the world.

•In the meantime, with the entire ecosystem of exam-oriented guide books and coaching classes that require entrance examinations just to get into them, we will continue to churn out a highly educated workforce, which Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak recently described as extremely hard working, ambitious and desirous of the “great life” but lacking in creativity.

•In the age of the Web, the ability to memorise facts is a vestigial skill. However, given that knowledge is so much more contested and multi-faceted, it stands to reason that school students need to be trained to apply facts to real-world problems and be evaluated in their abilities to critique, seek out information and produce knowledge of their own. This requires educators to re-imagine testing — everywhere, from kindergarten to management and encourage new Mozarts who’re confident of their creativity.

📰 India denies Canada view on Atwal

Says no ‘rogue’ Indian officials were involved in including him in Trudeau tour

•The External Affairs Ministry has dismissed a “conspiracy theory” that the Canada-based Khalistan activist Jaspal Atwal’s visit to India was facilitated by “rogue Indian officials”.

•Responding to a question regarding exchanges in the Canadian Parliament on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s India visit, Ministry spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said that India had “nothing to do” with Mr. Atwal’s visit.

•“Let me categorically state that the Government of India, including the security agencies, had nothing to do with the presence of Jaspal Atwal at the event hosted by the Canadian High Commissioner in Mumbai or the invitation issued to him for the Canadian High Commissioner’s reception in New Delhi. Any suggestion to the contrary is baseless and unacceptable,” Mr. Kumar said.

Trudeau’s statement

•The Ministry’s statement comes a day after Mr. Trudeau expressed in public his support to the theory that Mr. Atwal’s visit was linked to “rogue elements in the Indian establishment who wanted to jeopardise his [PM Justin Trudeau’s] India visit due to alleged links between his government and Khalistan activists in Canada”.

•The Canadian Prime Minister had promised an investigation on the goof-up, which had created a furore here and clouded his week-long visit visit..

•Mr. Atwal was booked for an attempt to murder in the 1980s and is known for his strong views on Khalistan.

•The Ministry earlier said that Mr. Atwal’s visit resulted from an ‘oversight’ by Canada.

📰 Ghani ready for talks with Taliban

Offers party status to insurgents in return for recognition of Constitution

•Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on Wednesday unveiled a plan to open peace talks with the Taliban, including eventually recognising them as a political party, days after the militants called for direct negotiations with the U.S.

•The apparent openness by both sides to some form of negotiations came as civilian casualties have soared in recent months, with the Taliban increasingly targeting towns and cities in response to a new and more aggressive U.S. military policy ordered by President Donald Trump.

•Mr. Ghani disclosed the framework at the Kabul Process, a regional conference focussed on bringing peace to the country. He called for a truce, after which the Taliban could become a political party and contest elections.

•“A ceasefire should be held, the Taliban should be recognised as a political party and trust-building process should be initiated,” said Mr. Ghani, in remarks similar to past offers.

•“Now the decision is in your hands, accept peace... and let’s bring stability to this country.” In return, Mr. Ghani said the militants should officially recognise the Afghan government and Constitution, a perennial sticking point in past attempts to open talks.

No immediate response

•There was no immediate response to Mr. Ghani’s offer from the Taliban. However, the group’s spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid maligned the Kabul Process, tweeting that the conference sought the Taliban’s “surrender” at a time when it is “without a doubt a force that has defeated an international arrogant power like America with all its allies and tools at disposal”.

•On Monday, the Taliban said it was prepared to enter direct talks with the U.S. to find a “peaceful solution”. That statement, however, made no mention of negotiating with the Afghan government.

📰 Pakistan 'not' on black list, confirms it will be on FATF grey list in June

FATF has highlighted certain deficiencies in the Anti-Money Laundering and Countering of Terrorist Financing framework of Pakistan :

•After days of ambiguity Pakistan on Wednesday confirmed that it will be on the grey list of Financial Action Task Force on Money Laundering (FATF) in June but disputed claims of being put on a black list.

•“At the outset I would like to state that the lead Ministry for dealing with FATF/ICRG is the Ministry of Finance. Secondly, the internal processes of FATF are confidential. Therefore, I will not be able to comment on its deliberations. Pakistan will be assigned to the ‘grey list’ in June, once an Action Plan has been mutually negotiated. The statement that Pakistan will be transferred from the ‘grey’ to the ‘black’ list in June is therefore not true. The FATF website clearly demarcates the countries in ‘black’ list, as those who are non-cooperative,” Foreign Office spokesman Dr. Mohammed Faisal told a media briefing in Islamabad.

FATF pointed to deficiencies

•The spokesman said FATF has highlighted certain deficiencies in the Anti-Money Laundering and Countering of Terrorist Financing (AML/CFT) framework of Pakistan.

•“The government of Pakistan, over the last few years, has taken a number of measures to address these issues, including through enactment of legislation, issuance of regulations and guidelines by SBP and SECP to the financial sector, establishment of the Financial Monitoring Unit and implementation of UNSC 1267 sanctions on the entities of concern [JuD/FIF]. We will take further actions for addressing any remaining deficiencies.” he added.

Envoy summoned over ‘truce violations’

•Indian Deputy High Commissioner J.P. Singh was summoned to the Foreign Office over the unprovoked ceasefire violations by the Indian occupation forces along the Line of Control on February 23 and February 27, 2018 resulting in the death of two innocent civilians namely Muhammad Farooq, and Zain, a boy of 13, while injuring three others.

•“Despite calls for restraint, India continues to indulge in ceasefire violations. In 2018, the Indian forces have carried out more than 400 ceasefire violations along the Line of Control and the Working Boundary, resulting in the death of 18 innocent civilians and injuries to 68 others,” the spokesman claimed.

•The Forign Office also criticized the Indian Motion Pictures Producers' Association decision to uphold its ban on Pakistani artists, being caste in Indian media.

•“It is unfortunate that art and cinema which bring people together by acting as cultural bridges, are being held hostage to hate and xenophobia. Unfortunately this decision, following several others, including non-issuance of visas to Pakistani Zaireen, refusal to allow participation of Sikhs and Katas raj pilgrims and cancellation of sports matches underscores the growing intolerance and bias prevalent in India exposing the shamocracy it is increasingly becoming. Politicising religious and cultural activities is detrimental, most of all to India itself,” the spokesman alleged..

📰 Anti-Muslim violence in Ampara sparks concern

Sampanthan seeks “stern action” against the culprits.

•Sri Lanka’s Leader of Opposition R. Sampanthan on Wednesday condemned the recent anti-Muslim attacks in the Ampara district of Eastern Province and sought “stern action” against the culprits. His comments come in the wake of an attack on a mosque and several Muslim-run shops late on Monday in Ampara town. At least five persons were injured in the attack. Police have since deployed additional security in the area.

•Following the development, President Maithripala Sirisena said such incidents are detrimental to reconciliation in the country. The matter was also discussed at Tuesday’s weekly Cabinet meeting, according to Ministers.

•Muslims here identify themselves as a distinct ethnic minority, and constitute about 9% of the country’s population. Monday’s incident, said to have been triggered by a Sinhalese mob, has sparked concern among many Sri Lankans, given that the island has witnessed a spate of anti-Muslim attacks over the last few years.

20 incidents in 2017

•Hard-line Sinhala Buddhist groups have openly engaged in hate speech against the community. In 2017, at least 20 violent incidents targeting the minority community were reported.

•“This seems [to be] a targeted attack in our district, which has a sizeable Muslim population. We are worried because police response was rather slow. Since Monday, there is a lot of fear and anxiety in the community,” said Siraj Mashoor, a political activist based in Ampara. Muslims account for about 44 % of the Ampara district’s population, as per the 2012 census.

•Centre for Policy Alternatives, a Colombo-based NGO, on Wednesday issued a statement condemning the “systematic hate campaigns that have targeted minorities” in the post-war context.

📰 Pharma promotions tax exempt: tribunal

Ruling allowing companies to claim benefit on funds spent on doctors sparks off ethics debate

•A recent decision of the Income Tax Appellate Tribunal’s Pune bench allowing pharmaceutical companies to account for their spending on doctors as a deductible expenditure has sparked off a fresh debate on ethics.

•Since the companies are out of the purview of the Medical Council of India (MCI), money spent on promotions, which in some cases could be gifts, travel, hospitality and so on for doctors, besides medical conferences and samples, can be claimed as deductible expenditure. Doctors accepting such promotions may be violating the code of ethics of the MCI.

•The tribunal’s order came in a case involving Emcure Pharmaceuticals Ltd, which filed returns in which expenses of Rs. 2.07 crore were claimed as ‘advertisement sales promotions’. Of this, about Rs. 50 lakh was for ‘print and promotion’ and the remaining Rs. 1.57 crore was for ‘sales promotions’. The pharma company’s claim was disallowed by the IT department on the ground that it violated the MCI code of ethics.

•A Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT) circular disallows deductions that violate MCI regulations. However, the IT Appellate Tribunal reversed the decision by the assessing officer and ruled in favour of the company. Citing observations made in other cases, the bench noted that pharma companies organised seminars and discussions to upgrade the knowledge of doctors, and such activities were undertaken to make doctors aware of products. The order noted that only when the companies made doctors or medical practitioners aware of such products and medicines could they be “launched successfully”.

•“This kind of expenditure is definitely in the nature of sales and business promotion, which has to be allowed,” the order said.

‘Pharma needs ethics’

•Health activist Dr. Abhijit More of Jan Swasthya Abhiyan said technically, the tribunal was correct. “The MCI code may not govern pharma companies. But there are ethical problems as it directly affects patients,” he said. “The companies should also have a code of ethics,” said Dr. More. Freebies and favours taken by doctors pushed up the cost of healthcare. “Costly drugs are prescribed although cheaper substitutes may be available,” he added.

📰 United by a common purpose

The Constitution Bench in the land acquisition case must show us that the court still respects rules of precedent

•Entrenched in our commitment to a rule of law is what lawyers describe as stare decisis. That is, in plain English, a promise to stand by things decided, to respect and honour precedent. Today, with the Supreme Court seized by a maelstrom of crises, this principle stands deeply undermined. At first, the latest clash between judges on the court might strike us as a simple contretemps over theories of legal interpretation. But the consequences here are enormous and are already being felt across the country. The Chief Justice of India, Dipak Misra, has now established a bench of five judges, which he will head, and which will commence hearing arguments on March 6, to resolve the conflict. At stake is the court’s integrity.

Provision in Land Act

•The issue itself emanates out of a divisive provision in the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013 (LARR Act), which replaced the Land Acquisition Act of 1894. The colonial law had codified powers of eminent domain in strikingly draconian fashion. Landowners were placed at the state’s mercy. Government was accorded vast discretion to expropriate land for supposed public use. Requirements of due process were scant, and the amount of money paid in return for land was often derisory, that too in the rare cases where it could be grasped from the exchequer’s strong hands.

•Some might argue that the LARR Act, in repealing the 1894 statute, didn’t go far enough in correcting the wrongs of old, and that its basic premise, in re-recognising a wide power of eminent domain, is inherently flawed. But there can be little question that the number of safeguards that the law legislates has made the process of acquisition manifestly fairer. For instance, it compels a social and environmental impact assessment as a precondition for any acquisition.

•Besides, it also acknowledges a need for a system of rehabilitation and resettlement for those whose livelihoods are likely to be affected by the transfer of land. At least partly, these protections intend to alter the traditional relationship between the state and the citizen, allowing communal benefit to occasionally trump interests of pure capital.

Compensation the key

•One of the provisions, which seeks to give meaning to this larger aim, is Section 24 of the LARR Act. This clause, among other things, concerns acquisitions made under the 1894 law, where compensation payable to a landowner from whom land had been taken prior to the year 2009 has already been determined. In such cases, the new law stipulates, the state ought to have not only taken possession of the land but also paid the amounts determined as due, failing which the entire proceedings will lapse. This means that even where the state has put the land acquired to some use, its failure to pay the holder compensation would render the entire proceeding nugatory.

•Plainly read, Section 24 might seem rather innocuous. But, in January 2014, soon after the law came into force, the state sought to fashion a conservative interpretation of the clause, only for a three-judge bench of the Supreme Court to quickly nip such attempts in the bud. Pune Municipal Corporation v. Harakchand Misirimal Solanki was a case where awards had been made by the government prior to 2009. The state argued that each of the landowners from whom land was acquired had specifically been told about the quantum of money that they were entitled to receive. Since they neither disputed the amount fixed nor came forward to receive the money, the government claimed it deposited cash payable by it into its own treasury. According to it, this action was sufficient to negate the operation of Section 24. Or, put more simply, the landowners, the government said, were not entitled to retake their lands by claiming that they hadn’t received their compensation. The Supreme Court, however, thought otherwise.

•Ordinarily, the court held, the state is always obligated to pay the landowner money in terms of any award made. It was only in exceptional circumstances, defined in Section 31 of the 1894 statute, that the government could deposit those amounts into a court of law. These included cases where a landowner might have refused to receive compensation, for some reason or the other. But even there, a mere payment into the government’s own treasury wouldn’t suffice. The law mandated deposit into court. Therefore, the proceedings in all these cases under the 1894 law, the bench ruled, had to be annulled, with lands being returned to their original owners.

•High Courts across India almost uniformly adopted this verdict, reversing acquisitions in a host of cases. Indeed, in September 2016, a two-judge bench of the Supreme Court in Delhi Development Authority v. Sukhbir Singhrecognised the trend. The decision in Pune Municipal Corporation, it wrote, was “now stare decisis in that it has been followed in a large number of judgments.”

A different reading

•Yet, despite the law having been settled so thoroughly, with benefits from its interpretation extending to a number of landowners, including, in particular, poor farmers, on February 8, a divided three-judge bench departed from the decision in Pune Municipality. In Indore Development Authority v. Shailendra, Justices Arun Mishra and Adarsh Kumar Goel, who comprised the majority — Justice Mohan M. Shantanagoudar partly dissented — found that in cases where a landowner refuses compensation, a payment into the government’s treasury was sufficient, and that there was no attendant obligation on the state to deposit this money into court. This reading clearly fits neither with the language of the LARR Act nor the law’s larger objectives. But this is one part of the problem. What makes the ruling patently unconscionable, though, is that it roundly disregards Pune Municipal Corporation, holding that the bench there showed a lack of due regard for the law.

•Stare decisis, a principle foundational to the judiciary’s effective functioning, is predicated on a belief that settled points of law ought not to be disturbed. The idea is that a court’s rulings should represent a consistent position. If judges are allowed to easily depart from precedent, citizens might find themselves in an impossible position, where the statement of law remains prone to the constant vagaries of human interpretation.

•In India, since the Supreme Court declares the law for the whole country, ensuring uniformity in its decisions is especially critical. But achieving this has proved challenging, because the court doesn’t sit as one, functioning instead as a series of differently sized panels. Therefore, to ensure that its decisions remain predominantly consistent, the court has carved out rules that make its judgments binding on all benches of the court of an equal or lesser strength. This convention was even expressly acknowledged by a Constitution Bench in Central Board of Dawoodi Bohra Community v. State of Maharashtra (2004). There, the court held that a three-judge bench cannot overrule a precedent set by an earlier bench of equal strength, but must, in cases where it thinks the previous bench might have blundered, refer the dispute to the Chief Justice, seeking the creation of a larger panel. Maintaining such a rule not only ensures stability in the court’s rulings but also provides the court with the necessary flexibility to correct its errors in appropriate cases.

•Ultimately, therefore, the decision in Indore Development stems from an act of impropriety. To altogether overhaul problems such as these altogether might require a complete reimagining of the court’s role. Only a larger purging of its jurisdiction, by relieving it of mundane disputes that clog its docket, will allow it to function cohesively. For now, though, to restore even a semblance of institutional integrity, the Constitution Bench must show us that the court still respects rules of precedent, that it recognises its obligation to speak in unison, and that, most significantly, it sees itself as an institution governed by a common and majestic purpose.

📰 E-way bills redux: next step for GST Council

This next step in the GST regime must factor in industry and States’ reservations

•The group of ministers assessing technology issues related to the Goods and Services Tax regime has proposed rolling out on April 1 the e-way bill system to track inter-State movement of goods above the value of ₹50,000. A final decision on the launch of the system will now be taken by the GST Council at its next meeting. A plan to start it on February 1 had to be abandoned after the IT network to create the bills crashed in its first few hours after generating about five lakh bills. The government decided to defer its roll-out till the technical glitches, like those businesses faced while filing online returns on the GST Network initially after its July 1 roll-out last year, were removed. For intra-State goods movement, the government had said all States must launch their own e-way bill systems by June 1. Now the ministerial group headed by Bihar Finance Minister Sushil Modi has proposed that instead of bringing all States and Union Territories on board together, introducing intra-State e-way Bills in four or five at a time is better. For businesses with operations across the country, this proposal will pose a fresh compliance headache as some States may require e-way Bills for internal movement of goods while others will not. Industry already has several reservations about the e-way bill regime, including the norm that such bills are generated for all goods travelling 10 km from the point of origin.

•The government’s haste is understandable, given its fiscal compulsions. After a monthly inflow of over ₹90,000 crore in the first three months of the tax regime, revenue collections dipped. From a peak of ₹92,283 crore in July 2017 — that the Centre reckoned was adequate to deal with its revenue targets and compensate States for revenue losses — GST collections between October and January averaged ₹84,294 crore per month. This may be partly because of the large-scale rationalisation of tax rates carried out recently, but registered taxpayers are also finding ways to avoid tax dues. Data for January bear this out — about 69% of the over one crore registered businesses filed returns, with wide variations across territories. In Punjab, 83% taxpayers filed returns, while industrially developed States, including Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu, didn’t fare as well. This disparity must be factored in by the GST Council when it considers proposals for a staggered launch of the intra-State e-way bill system. Boosting compliance is critical for further rationalisation of multiple GST rates, the Finance Minister has said. To achieve that goal, it must be ensured that States and industry are comfortable with the e-way bill regime, and that the IT backbone doesn’t crash this time.

📰 An ode to a dying language

India is one of the great repositories of languages — we need a notion of heritage to save them

•One of the tragedies of modern culture is that while all societies mourn the dead, few have mourning rituals for the death of a species, or the disappearance of a language. Modernity needs a mourning wall to bemoan the death of a language or the missingness of a seed. In fact, the collective death of cultures as genocide, extermination and extinction have few rituals of memory, few moments of commemoration.

Death of a culture

•The death of a language in particular has a particular poignancy. When a language dies, a way of life dies, a way of thinking disappears, a connection between word and world is lost. Often, today, we mourn the death of the last speaker, treating him as a vestige of an entire past. Newspapers often report the death of a last tribal speaker, scarcely mentioning the death of a culture that preceded it. There is a hypocrisy and ambivalence which captures modernity’s attitude to the obsolescent and near extinct.

•There is a failure of story-telling where the death of a language becomes a litany of numbers. Yet there is fatalism behind numbers. Futurists warn that over 3,000 languages might disappear over the next ten years. The danger to minority languages and oral languages is high. Almost any census on languages is a ritual of mourning.

•Development and the institutions of development like school mutually guarantee the disappearance of minority languages and dialects. A school generally teaches in a majority language. The pithiest critique of such schools was made by the Kannada writer U.R. Ananthamurthy, who said India is a country where the illiterate worker speaks five-seven languages and the convent schoolchild speaks one.

•One group that is steadfastly fighting to keep languages alive is the People’s Linguistic Survey of India (PSLI). The chairman of the PSLI, Ganesh N. Devy, a literary critic who spent years saving tribal languages, remarked that clerical definitions can be genocidal and facilitate extinction. Mr. Devy said that when the Government of India decided to define a language as a form of life marked by a script, it triggered the erasure of oral languages. India in many ways is an oral society that understands the culture of orality. Today one needs to create a new social contract between orality, textuality and digitality to keep pluralism alive.

•Mr. Devy added that the silence of the tribe began in the moment of this legislation. The PLSI also noted that extinction of a language and the death of an ecology often go together. In India coastal languages are dying as the coast and the livelihoods of the coast are being destroyed ecologically and culturally. The intrusions of the corporate world are forcing fishing communities inward and in the process they give up their languages. Sometimes as an anthropologist I often think of the hypocrisy called corporate social responsibility (CSR) and wish 5% of CSR were devoted to saving languages and crafts. Sadly, corporations lack such an imagination. No corporation thinks of language loss as a loss of human capital. What we need now are chartered accountants of culture.

Losing a world

•Losing a language is losing a cosmology, a set of myths, rituals of competence. Yet no cost-benefit ever calculates the cultural cost of language extinction. It is seen as obsolescence, a literal consequence of modernity and development. The sadness in India is that it is one of the great repositories of language in the world. We need a notion of heritage which can save agricultural and linguistic diversity together. A nation which has 140,000 varieties of rice and over 780 languages is a trustee of diversity. We need to invent a citizenship and a commons of cultures as part of our democratic imagination. A democracy that fails to be inventive about culture eventually becomes a nominal, rudimentary and standardised world. A people need to feel a language is relevant, possesses dignity, provides competence, identity and meaning for it to survive. The guarantee for such a world is rarely available. A language disappears as a new generation enters modernity, abandoning memory and older forms of competence.

•One needs a special prayer for a language going extinct. It is restricted to a few elder speakers and as one confronts the last speaker, science objectivises her into a museum exhibit. The death of the last speaker and the breast-beating that follows are among the farcical exercises of a modern culture that museumises these forms of life and lets them go extinct.

•When the art critic, Ananda Kentish Muthu Coomaraswamy, claimed that the museum smelled of death and formaldehyde, he could have been thinking about the way society looks at an extinct language. It collects information tapes of a dying language, freezes its grammar but lets a community die. The indifference of modernity and its idolatry of progress is best caught in the ritual of language loss. I remember Albert Camus once said, “statistics do not bleed” — but as one discovers that a language becomes extinct once every 14 days, even numbers seem to be in mourning.

•One senses this as one looks at the UNESCO atlas of world languages in danger. One reads that 230 languages have become extinct since 1950. Yet what one discovers is that one is creating abstract information without the innovations of a community. What one needs is a celebration of multilingualism. The myth of the speaker holding forth in one language is a poor myth of a Macaulayite world. One needs a kaleidoscope of spaces where different languages are juxtaposed and one switches between them as one shifts context. Translation too becomes an important act of citizenship. Even here the bias towards monolingualism is clear. Ananthamurthy once suggested that the Third World needs a new model of UNESCO for translations. Translation today is a one-way process. Local and regional languages are translated into English but one rarely thinks of translating from Tamil to Spanish. One needs to move to a more polyglot world to sustain a vision of diversity.

•In fact, language loss is a part of a bigger problematic of diversity.

📰 Against human rights

Encounter killings militate against the rule of law

•Cicero famously said, “We are in bondage to the law in order that we may be free.” John Adams said about the Massachusetts Constitution that it was intended to have a “government of laws not of men”. The rule of law has rightly been argued to be part of the basic structure of the Indian Constitution. It is an unqualified human good. The World Justice Project Index takes into account 44 indicators in 113 countries, and India’s rank in 2017-18 was a dismal 62. Denmark topped the list. In fact, our criminal justice system ranks even lower, at 66. Nepal is ahead of us on this. Police encounters, which have become a common phenomenon, do contribute to our low rank on ‘rule of law’ index.

Measure of arbitrariness

•Rule of law is the fundamental principle of governance of any civilised liberal democracy. It is the anti-thesis of arbitrariness. Yet, the Uttar Pradesh government looks somewhat determined to disregard the first principles of the criminal justice system. Police encounters have become routine in U.P., and in December, Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath introduced in the State Assembly the Uttar Pradesh Control of Organised Crime Bill, 2017 on the pattern of the regressive Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act (MCOCA). Such legislation does not promote the rule of law, but is itself a kind of violence, though a legitimate one with due authority of law. Such laws are basically examples of “rule by law” as law itself negates human rights and permits deviations from due processes. Authoritarian regimes, such as of Hitler, too govern through “rule by law” and oppose “rule of law”.

•It seems that lately the U.P. police has assumed the role of both investigator and judge, and at times it successfully delivers instant justice. U.P. is fast becoming known for its police encounters, with Mr. Adityanath himself telling the U.P. Legislative Council in mid-February about the rare feat achieved by the police in killing 40 criminals in as many as 1,200 encounters since government formation. He said sympathy for criminals is dangerous for a democracy. He is also reported to have said that “bandook ka jawab bandook se diya jayega (the gun will be answered with a gun)”.

•The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has issued notices on encounter deaths to the U.P. government.

•The fundamental premise of the rule of law is that every human being, including the worst criminal, is entitled to basic human rights and due process. Encounter killings generally take place with the prior consent or in full knowledge of the top authority. What an irony that when after a long wait, the trial in cases of fake encounter takes place, the main culprits easily get discharged, and, in some cases, the Central Bureau of Investigation even refuses to file an appeal against such discharge, and subsequently many prosecution witnesses turn hostile, as has happened in the Sohrabuddin encounter case in Maharashtra.

•Mr. Adityanath should not be alone blamed for the encounter culture. Such deaths have been taken place in States across India, and the excesses in Punjab in the 1980s and 1990s, for instance, are well recorded.

Like a sledgehammer

•In July 2016 in the case of Extra Judicial Execution Victim Families Association, where the Supreme Court was dealing with more than 1,500 such killings in Manipur, Justice Madan B. Lokur observed: “Scrutiny by the courts in such cases leads to complaints by the state of its having to fight militants, insurgents and terrorists with one hand tied behind its back. This is not a valid criticism since, and this is important, in such cases it is not the encounter or the operation that is under scrutiny but the smoking gun that is under scrutiny. There is a qualitative difference between use of force in an operation and use of such deadly force that is akin to using a sledgehammer to kill a fly; one is an act of self-defence while the other is an act of retaliation.”

•Importantly, the above observations were about terrorists, not ordinary criminals like those being killed in U.P. encounters. From the details of U.P. encounters, they do not look like acts of defence by the U.P. police. These encounters demonstrate the government’s resolve to adopt ‘the rule by gun’ in preference to ‘the rule of law’.

•We must recall what the Supreme Court said in the Salwa Judum case (2011): “The primordial value is that it is the responsibility of every organ of the State to function within the four corners of constitutional responsibility. That is the ultimate rule of law.”

📰 GDP surges in third quarter

Growth estimate pegged at 6.6%

•GDP growth in the third quarter of financial year 2017-18 was 7.2%, the fastest in the year so far, according to official data released on Wednesday. The government also marginally increased its estimate for the full year’s growth to 6.6% from its earlier estimate of 6.5%.

•Growth in GDP was at 6.5% in the second quarter of this financial year. Growth in the gross value added (GVA) in the third quarter stood at 6.7%, up from the 6.2% seen in the second quarter and the 5.6% in the first quarter of this financial year. In the third quarter, the manufacturing sector exhibited a strong recovery, growing at 8.1%, following up on a 6.9% growth in the second quarter. The agriculture sector also saw relatively robust growth in the third quarter, growing at 4.1%, up from 2.7% in the first and second quarters.

•“The GDP trends are consistent with the robust growth of the manufacturing Purchasing Manager’s Index (PMI), Index of Industrial Production (IIP) and consumer demand,” Bibek Debroy, Chairman of the PM’s Economic Advisory Council said in a statement . “The fast recovery in the economic indicators like IIP, PMI and consumer demand reflects a positive economic sentiment and that India is on the right path to become one of the fastest major economy in the world surpassing China.” Gross fixed capital formation (GFCF), a measure of overall investment activity in the economy, grew at a robust 12% in the third quarter, up from the 6.92% growth seen in the previous quarter.

📰 Rupee weakens as dollar demand rises after fraud

Banks’ caution on trade finance spurring purchases of U.S. currency

•A marked increase in demand for dollars has been pushing the rupee lower in recent sessions as banks exercise increased caution over issuing buyer’s credit, letter of credit (LC) and similar instruments for trade finance in the wake of the fraud uncovered at Punjab National Bank (PNB).

•The rupee, which closed at 64.89 to a dollar on Tuesday, slid to as low as 65.31 intraday before state-run banks stepped in and sold some dollars helping the Indian currency pare its losses. The rupee closed at 65.17 to a dollar, down ₹0.28 when compared to the previous close.

Curbing volatility

•The Reserve Bank of India maintains that it never targets a particular value for the rupee and only intervenes to curb volatility.

•“The primary factor is the stress we see in the trade finance market with rollover of buyer’s credit, LC etc,” said Anindya Banerjee, currency strategist with Kotak Securities.

•“So that is why you are seeing a jump in the spot demand for dollars. So, what is happening is lot of dollar supply is preponed… it is brought forward to meet the demand for dollars in the spot market,” Mr. Banerjee said.

•Since the PNB scam broke on February 14, the rupee has depreciated 1.3% against the dollar. It has weakened about 2% this year making it the worst performing currency in Asia in 2018 after the Philippine peso, which has depreciated about 4.2%.

•The country’s second-largest lender, which had initially reported that it may suffered about ₹11,500 crore worth of fraudulent transactions in one of its branches in Mumbai, recently said that figure could increase by another ₹1,300 crore. The fraud related to the unauthorised issuance of letters of understanding (LoUs) for securing buyer’s credit.

•Other factors that could impact the rupee’s fortunes adversely include the recent trend of the dollar strengthening internationally. There has been an increase in dollar demand in the wake of the U.S. administration’s recent measures to incentivise the nation’s companies to repatriate earnings from overseas. This is also causing a dollar shortage in the offshore markets.

•Also, any continuation of a sell-off in domestic equity markets would hurt the Indian currency, dealers said. Till Tuesday, foreign institutional investors had pulled out almost $900 million from equity markets since the scam came to light on February 14. On Wednesday, the BSE Sensex fell 162.35 points, or 0.47% , to close at 34,184.04.

📰 Manufacturing sector growth falls to 4-month low in Feb.: PMI

As factory output and new business orders rose at a slower pace.

•India’s manufacturing sector activity fell to a four-month low in February, as factory output and new business orders rose at a slower pace, according to a monthly survey.

•The Nikkei India Manufacturing Purchasing Managers Index (PMI) fell to 52.1 in February from 52.4 in January, indicating a modest improvement in operating conditions.

•This is for the seventh consecutive month that the index remained above the 50-point-mark, that separates expansion from contraction.

•According to Japanese financial services major Nomura, India’s manufacturing PMI remained in the expansion zone, but suggested some consolidation after the rapid ramp up of activity in December.

•In December 2017, the index had touched a 60-month high of 54.7.

'It was promising'

•“It was promising to see that India’s manufacturing sector remained in growth territory, as the impact of July’s Goods and Services Tax continues to dissipate,” said Aashna Dodhia, economist at IHS Markit and author of the report.

•In response to greater production requirements, firms raised their staffing levels during February. Although modest, the pace of job creation was slightly faster than January.

•On the prices front, the survey said that cost inflation accelerated to the sharpest since February 2017, adding to expectations that inflationary risks will continue over the coming months.

•IHS Markit upgraded its CPI forecast to 5.2% for financial year 2017-2018 amid a stronger oil price forecast and growing fiscal risks.

•The survey further noted that Indian manufacturers remained optimistic towards the 12-month outlook for output during February.

📰 Fiscal deficit overshoots full-year revised estimate in Jan

Touches Rs 6.77 lakh crore at the end of January, 113.7 per cent of the target for the entire fiscal, on account of higher expenditure

•India’s fiscal deficit touched Rs 6.77 lakh crore at the end of January, 113.7 per cent of the target for the entire fiscal, on account of higher expenditure.

•The fiscal deficit, reflection of government borrowings to meet revenue-expenditure gap, was 113.7 per cent in the 10-month period of 2017-18 as compared to 105.7 per cent in the year-ago period.

•Fiscal deficit had been pegged at Rs 5.33 lakh crore, or 3.5 per cent of the GDP, for the current fiscal ending March 31.

•The figure was revised to Rs 5.95 lakh crore in the Union Budget 2018-19, presented in Parliament earlier on February 1.

•As per data released by the Controller General of Accounts (CGA), the revenue deficit during the April-January period of 2017-18, at Rs 4.80 lakh crore works out to 109.2 pr cent of the revised budget estimate.

•It was 129.9 per cent in the corresponding period of the last financial year.

Net tax receipts

•Net tax receipts in the first 10 months of 2017-18 fiscal were 9.7 lakh crore.

•Total receipts from revenue and non-debt capital of the government during the period amount to Rs 11.63 lakh crore or 71.7 per cent of revised estimate.

•The government’s revenue expenditure during the current fiscal till January came in at Rs 15.75 lakh crore, 81 per cent of the full-year revised estimate.

•The capital expenditure was Rs 2.64 lakh crore, or 96.9 per cent, of the full-year revised estimate.

•The total expenditure was Rs 18.39 lakh crore,83 per cent of the government’s full-year estimate of Rs 22.17 lakh crore.

📰 Rs. 9,435-crore arms purchases to get rolling

Defence Acquisition Council gives its approval for the procurement proposals for the three services

•The Defence Acquisition council (DAC) on Wednesday gave approval for various procurement proposals at an estimated cost of about Rs. 9,435 crore. This includes purchases of 41,000 light machine guns (LMG) and over 3.5 lakh close quarter battle (CQB) carbines for the three services.

•The DAC approval is the first step in the long-drawn defence procurement procedure and will take several years for the final deals to be concluded.

•In the past all these deals have been repeatedly cancelled.

For three services

•“The vintage personal weapons, assault rifles, carbines and LMGs being operated by the troops of the three services, especially by soldiers positioned on the borders and in areas affected by militancy has been a cause of concern for over a decade… With the approval of these two proposals, the Government has cleared procurement of the entire range of personal weapons for the three Services, the Ministry said in a statement.

•These small arms would be procured under the Buy and Make (Indian) category and of the total quantities envisaged, 75% will be through Indian industry under “Buy and Make (Indian)” category and balance through Ordnance Factory Board (OFB).

•The cost of carbines and LMGs is Rs. 4,607 crore and Rs. 3,000 crore respectively.

•The reservation for the OFB has been kept to optimally utilise their infrastructure and capacity, as well as provide a window for assimilation of critical technologies towards building indigenous capability in small arms manufacturing, the Ministry stated.

•The DAC also approved the procurement of essential quantity of High Capacity Radio Relay (HCRR) for the Army and Air Force at a cost of over Rs. 1092 crore and the Coast Guard will get two Pollution Control Vessels (PCV) at an approximate cost of Rs. 673 crore.

•The HCRRs would provide fail-safe and reliable communication along with increased bandwidth in the Tactical Battle Area.

•The PCVs in addition to carrying out pollution control would also be capable of undertaking patrolling, search and rescue and limited salvage and fire-fighting operations at sea.

•In the last two months, the Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) had accorded approval for procurement of a series of small arms.

Largest deal

•The largest deal is for the procurement of 7.4 lakh assault rifles from both OFB and Private Industry at an estimated cost of Rs. 12,280 crore.

•Other approved small arms proposals include 5,917 sniper rifles for the Army and Indian Air Force for about Rs. 982 crore, 17,000 Light Machine Guns (LMG) for the three Services at an estimated cost of over Rs. 1,819 crore, and another proposal for 72,400 assault rifles and 93,895 Carbines at a combined cost of Rs. 3,547 crore.

•Of the various small arms, immediate operational requirement for the soldiers deployed on the borders will be procured through fast track route and for the balance production lines will be set up in India.

📰 Fifty years of TERLS

India’s commitment to the peaceful use of outer space has been a constant 

•When Sputnik 1 was launched by the Soviets in 1957, little did anyone in India imagine that within five decades the country would become a powerhouse in the outer space arena and a major proponent of its peaceful use.

•During the 1950s and 1960s, the Cold War between the U.S. and the USSR accelerated as they entered the space race, which eventually turned into a bitter rivalry and raised the risk of space weaponisation. Thankfully, this was avoided after the Outer Space Treaty of 1967.

•It was against this backdrop that the Indian space programme was born in 1963 with the launch of Nike-Apache sounding rockets from Thumba in Thiruvananthapuram. The launch site was named the Thumba Equatorial Rocket Launching Station (TERLS), or India’s first space port. During the 1960s, TERLS became an international launch station and the sounding rockets launched from here proved instrumental in studying the equatorial electrojet.

•The Indian space programme received support from the U.S., the USSR, France, the U.K. and West Germany. Often, this was in the form of technical equipment such as telemetry receivers, tracking systems and computers. In return, India offered to dedicate TERLS to the United Nations as a goodwill gesture. Consequently, the UN formally sponsored TERLS as an international scientific facility open to all its members.

•In his book India’s Rise as a Space Power, U.R. Rao, a pioneer of India’s space programme and the ex-chairman of the Indian Space Research Organisation, said, “The sounding rocket programme at TERLS was initiated through a unique international co-operative arrangement with NASA of USA, CNES of France and Hydro Meteorological Service of USSR. The presence of a strong ‘equatorial electroject’ current over Thumba, which was also very close to the geomagnetic equator, made it an ideal site for the launch of sounding rockets.”

•To commemorate the 50th anniversary of the dedication of TERLS to the UN, which fell on February 2, 2018, ISRO honoured former employees of TERLS who had contributed to the sounding rocket programme.

•In these five decades and more, a lot of things have changed in the Indian space programme. But India’s commitment to the peaceful use of outer space has been a constant, a fact that is doubly commendable given that the entire programme advanced on the back of a considerable resource crunch. Compared to developed nations, the Indian programme still functions on a relatively small budget.

•At its heart, the space programme remains focussed on civilian benefits, using space technology to improve the life of the common man. This includes the use of satellites to: map and survey crops, assess damage from natural disasters, and bring telemedicine and telecommunication to the remote areas of rural India.