The HINDU Notes – 06th March 2018 - VISION

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Tuesday, March 06, 2018

The HINDU Notes – 06th March 2018

πŸ“° India, China step up engagement

Modi-Xi summit is set to follow two high-level ministerial meetings

•India and China are seeking to step up the pace in improving ties, with two high-level ministerial meetings this month leading to a summit meeting between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping, and a slew of engagements through the year, officials in Delhi and Beijing confirmed to The Hindu .

•“The leaders had decided during their [post-Doklam] Xiamen meeting in August last year that they must heighten the frequency and level of meetings, and we hope to see many more engagements in 2018 than before,” a senior diplomat told The Hindu.

•He referred to 2017 as a “difficult year” for ties, with the 73-day Doklam standoff and differences over Masood Azhar and the Nuclear Suppliers Group membership raising temperatures.

Official olive branch

•In signs that the two sides are also setting the stage for more harmonious dealings ahead, China agreed to Pakistan’s nomination to the FATF grey list on terror finance last month, while New Delhi has reportedly asked officials to be careful of China’s sensitivities.

•Sources said the Defence Ministry had put off its Institute of Defence Strategic Analysis (IDSA) Asian Security Conference scheduled for March 6 to 8 ,which was expected to take a more hawkish line on Chinese security policy and the Belt and Road initiative (BRI). “It appears India doesn’t want hard opinions on China aired from the government’s most prominent defence think-tank,” a source privy to the decision said.

•Later this month, the government will host Guo Yezhou, Vice- Minister of the International Department of the Communist Party of China (CPC), a key figure in the party overseeing foreign policy formulation.

•The dates of Mr. Guo’s visit, who will be part of a high- level delegation, have not been confirmed yet, primarily because of the ongoing session of the National People’s Congress (NPC), China’s parliament, which will continue till March 20.

Trump’s trade threat

•Meanwhile, Chinese Commerce Minister Zhong Shan or his deputy are expected to visit for talks with Commerce Minister Suresh Prabhu aimed at improving trade imbalances.

•Officials hope they will attend an informal ministerial meeting of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) organised by the Commerce Ministry on March 19 and 20.

•The WTO ministerial meeting is being seen as a significant platform of countries worried by the U.S.’s tough position on tariffs and President Donald Trump’s threats of a “trade war”, even as he called the WTO a “disaster for America”.

•The next important engagement will be the India-China strategic economic dialogue, held between officials of the NITI Aayog and China’s top planning body, the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC). “This is a highly important dialogue where the nuts and bolts of specific projects in five different areas will be discussed threadbare,” a diplomatic source said.

•Five working groups will hold detailed discussions on infrastructure, energy, hi-technology, investments and resource conservation.

•Mr. Modi is expected to meet President Xi in June at the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) summit in Qingdao.

•But at least two officials did not rule out the possibility of an “informal summit” before that.

•All eyes are also on India’s participation at the Boao Forum for Asia (BFA) meeting in Beijing from April 8 to 11, which is China’s equivalent of the World Economic Forum. In November, India has agreed in principle to participate in the high-profile import exhibition in Shanghai, despite reservations about China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

πŸ“° China hikes military budget by 8.1%

Prime Minister Li says Beijing will target a GDP growth of 6.5% this year, and lift 10 million from poverty

•China on Monday vowed to target a growth rate of around 6.5% in 2018 that would lift 10 million people out of poverty — in tune with establishing a strong military force.

•Presenting his work report — a stocktaking of achievements of the past five years as well as the unveiling of a development road map for another year — Prime Minister Li Keqiang told lawmakers assembled at an annual session of National People’s Congress (NPC) that China intended to raise its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by around 6.5%. Unemployment rate would be cut to below 5.5%.

Steady increase

•He highlighted that Beijing will raise its defence budget by a hefty 8.1% over the previous year, signalling the country’s intent to build world-class armed forces. The total amount of spending would be $175 billion, Xinhua reported, citing a report available to the media ahead of Monday’s NPC opening.

•China has been steadily increasing its military spending, dovetailed to its economic rise. From a budget of $132 billion in 2014, spending rose by 10%, 7.6% and 7% respectively in the following years.

•Mr. Li stressed that China would focus on building strong naval and air defences, bolstered by the infusion of high technology, derived though greater collaboration between domestic military and civilian industry.

•China has already inducted the fifth generation J-20 stealth fighters in its arsenal. There have been media reports that China could be building a third aircraft carrier, using a nuclear-powered engine.

•Amid concerns about a spiralling trade war with the United States, Mr. Li said China’s national security environment was undergoing fundamental changes.

•He added that China’s aspiration to build world-class armed forces would cover “all aspects of military training and war preparedness”, so that “national sovereignty, security and development interests” could be firmly safeguarded.

Cutting troop numbers

•Mr. Li underscored that China had fulfilled its earlier goal of cutting troop numbers by 3,00,000, as part of a road map to build a modern technology driven military force. He stressed that major advances had been recorded in developing military technology and equipment with the help of greater civilian-military industrial integration.

•Mr. Li also underscored that during the phase of modernisation, the military must fully observe the leadership of President Xi Jinping and the Party.

•Under Mr. Xi, who is also the General Secretary of the CPC and head of the apex Central Military Commission (CMC), the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has already transformed itself into a strong, world-class military force that has proven its mettle in safeguarding China’s maritime rights, combating terrorism and ensuring social stability.

•But Mr. Li did not refer to the CPC’s recommendation made more than a week ago that the Chinese presidency should not be limited to two consecutive terms, allowing Mr. Xi to remain President indefinitely. Mr. Li said that China aims to lift 10 million people out of poverty, as part of eradicating it by 2020. He also said that China plans to shift 2.8 million people living in rural areas to urban settlements.

‘Made in China 2025’

•He pointed out that the new budgetary allocations were in tune with China’s transition to a innovation-based economy that would leverage Artificial Intelligence, Big Data and Internet of Things to produce world-class products under the ‘Made in- China 2025’ plan.

•On the international plane, Mr. Li said that China stood for sustainable globalisation and opposed protectionism. He said China should step up the building of a Free Trade Area Asia-Pacific trade bloc.

πŸ“° It’s time to reimagine South Asia

India-China-Pakistan cooperation can transform the subcontinent — joining a renamed CPEC would be a good start

•A few months ago, Anjum Altaf, former dean of the prestigious Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS), wrote an article in the Dawnnewspaper, making a strong case for mutually beneficial economic cooperation between Pakistan and India. He also gave a revealing example of how this has become impossible because of “blind nationalism” in Pakistan.

•“At the time,” he wrote, “when tomatoes were selling for Rs300 a kilo in Lahore, they were available at Indian Rs40 a kilo in Amritsar a mere 30 miles away. But a visceral Indo-phobia, shared by many of our influentials, stood in the way of consumers benefiting from the lower priced supply.” Many Pakistani politicians want nothing to be imported from India, the enemy nation.

•This kind of blind nationalism is by no means Pakistan’s monopoly. Those who watch Indian TV channels debating India-Pakistan relations routinely hear similar Pak-phobia. Result: despite being neighbours, India and Pakistan are among the least integrated nations in the world. Because of their unending mutual hostility, South Asia too has become the least integrated region in the world. The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) is in a coma. Sadly, the most populous region in the world has also remained home to the largest number of poor people in the world.

So near, so far

•A few striking examples will show how our two countries, which were part of a single seamless socio-economic and cultural entity before 1947, have now completely drifted apart. There are no direct flights between their capitals — New Delhi and Islamabad. The frequency of Delhi-Lahore and Mumbai-Karachi flights have become minimal. The Mumbai-Karachi ferry service (the two port cities, once part of a single province, are closer to each other than either Mumbai and Delhi or Karachi and Islamabad) was stopped after the 1965 war.

•In this age of information revolution, the number of phone calls between Indian and Pakistani citizens (including calls between close relatives of divided families) is negligible, mostly out of fear of being questioned by their respective security agencies. At less than $3 billion annually, trade with Pakistan accounts for a meagre 0.4% of India’s growing global commerce.

•Those who are happy with this status quo have set responses. On the Indian side, it will be said that terror and trade cannot go together. The Narendra Modi government has raised the bar higher — terror and talks cannot go together. On the Pakistani side, resolution of the Kashmir issue has become a precondition for any substantial bilateral cooperation.

•But is the status quo benefiting either country? The answer is obvious, except to those arrogant ultra-nationalists who think India now has a seat on the global high table and hence need not care for Pakistan, and to those narrow-minded Pakistani patriots who think they need not care for India since they now have two protectors — China and the Muslim Ummah.

•China, of course, has become a new factor influencing India’s negative attitude towards Pakistan, both among policy-makers and the common people. Our Army chief, General Bipin Rawat’s egregious remark last year about India being ready for a simultaneous two-and-a-half front war with Pakistan and China (the “half front” being our own alienated people in Kashmir) has helped solidify an impression that our two large neighbours can never be friendly towards India. If India’s foreign and defence policies proceed on this belief, South Asia is surely heading towards a future of intensified hostilities and conflicts. Arms manufacturers and distant destabilisers will profit by this at the cost of common Indians and Pakistanis, who need employment, education, health care and food-and-environmental security. These needs can be met only through regional cooperation, not regional rivalry.

China, part of the solution

•In other words, can China become a part of the solution, rather than being perceived as a part of the India-Pakistan problem? A three-way India-China-Pakistan cooperation is not only necessary but indeed possible, and Chinese President Xi Jinping’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) provides a practical framework for such partnership. Unfortunately, Mr. Modi has allowed himself to be misled by his advisers on the BRI. The government’s opposition to the BRI is based, among other things, on the myopic argument that the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a flagship project under the BRI, violates India’s sovereignty since it passes through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK).

•Not only does this argument hold no water but it also undermines India’s long-term development and security interests. First, CPEC does not recognise PoK to be Pakistan’s sovereign territory. Article VI in the 1963 China-Pakistan boundary agreement clearly states in that “after the settlement of the Kashmir dispute between Pakistan and India, the sovereign authority concerned will reopen negotiations with the Government of the People’s Republic of China....” Second, there is little possibility of India ever getting PoK, or Pakistan ever getting the Indian side of Kashmir, through war or by any other means. Therefore, connectivity, cooperation and economic integration are the only realistic bases for any future India-Pakistan settlement of the Kashmir dispute.

•Third, and most important, both China and Pakistan have stated that they are open to India joining CPEC. China has also expressed its readiness to rename CPEC suitably to both address India’s concerns and to reflect the project’s expanded regional scope. Already, Iran, Afghanistan and several Central Asian republics have agreed to join this ambitious regional connectivity project. Will it help or hurt India if it joins this renamed initiative as an equal partner? Will it not connect Lahore and Amritsar (also Delhi and the rest of India), the two sides of Kashmir (which all Kashmir-based political parties want), Sindh and southern Punjab with Gujarat and Rajasthan, and Karachi with Mumbai?

Interdependence vital

•A no less seminal benefit for India is that by joining the renamed CPEC, it would gain land access, through Pakistan, to Afghanistan, Iran, Central Asia and western China. And if our leaders show vision, ambition and resolve, the CPEC-plus-India can be linked to the Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar Corridor, thus creating a grand garland of connectivity and integration for the whole of South Asia. If 1947 divided our subcontinent, here is an opportunity for India, Pakistan and all other countries in the region to come together and rise in shared progress and prosperity.

•Regrettably, the same short-sighted advisers who have misled Mr. Modi on the BRI and CPEC are selling India the pipe dream of an alternative connectivity project by the “Quadrilateral” of the U.S., Japan, Australia and India. This is unlikely to take off. Even if it does, its developmental benefits to India will be limited since it will seek to keep China and Pakistan out. We are also told that India does not need the CPEC since it has already partnered with Iran in building the Chabahar port. India’s gains due to Chabahar are modest, and nowhere comparable to those that would accrue by India having a direct land access to Afghanistan through Pakistan, courtesy a renamed CPEC. The latter is also indispensable for the success of two other mega projects that are critical for India’s energy security and accelerated economic growth — the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) and Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipelines.

•Here is another huge potential gain for South Asia. The proposed connectivity initiative, which would create strong new bonds of regional cooperation and interdependence, could also help resolve three long-standing geopolitical problems in the region, in which countless people have been killed — terrorism, Kashmir and Afghanistan.

•To realise this vision of a resurgent South Asia, two obstacles will have to be removed blind nationalism and the unfriendly designs of extra-regional powers. As Karl Marx would have said: peoples of South Asia and China, unite! You have nothing to lose but your chains; you have a bright new future to win.

πŸ“° SC poser on building code violations

Seeks govt. response on need to strictly implement National Building Code

•Agreeing that lax implementation of fire safety measures led to tragedies like the Uphaar theatre blaze and Mumbai's Kamla Mills fire, the Supreme Court on Monday directed the Centre to respond to the apparently poor implementation of the National Building Code by “speculative” developers and builders.

•A three-judge Bench, led by Chief Justice Dipak Misra, admitted a petition filed by United Human Rights Federation, represented by senior advocate Parag Tripathi and advocate V.K. Biju, which argued that the non-implementation of the amended Code violated the fundamental right to life of gullible citizens.

•The petition noted that precautions in the Code of 2016, such as provision of fire lifts in high rise buildings, fire-scape stairs for firemen, heavy static water storage, automatic sprinklers in basement car parking, etc, were usually given a miss by developers.

Top court not safe

•The petitioners submitted that a Central Information Commission order in 2014 had even noted that the Supreme Court building and the Parliament had not received fire safety certificates.

πŸ“° A gathering storm

With the assault on freedoms intensifying, it is crucial to engage more with international human rights law

•A few weeks ago, the World Justice Project released its Rule of Law Index 2017-18 report, which measures the extent to which 113 countries have adhered to the rule of law in that period. (India’s rank was 62, better than China, Pakistan, Myanmar and Bangladesh; Denmark occupied the top spot.) Every country’s performance was assessed in eight areas, including fundamental rights, which is measured by “absence of discrimination, right to life and security, due process, freedom of expression and religion, right to privacy, freedom of association, and labour rights.” The survey found that 71 out of the 113 countries have dropped in score. This report, along with others such as the Amnesty International Annual Report 2017-18, indicates the serious erosion of international human rights law in recent times.

Story across the world

•Even a cursory glance at the world is worrying. In Turkey and China, the assault on civil liberties and freedoms has intensified. There is increasing hostility towards civil society organisations and hardening of attitudes towards minorities in Poland and Hungary. The human rights of refugees are routinely negated, including in Australia and the U.S. The rise of majoritarian attitudes, hate speech and hate crimes is a growing concern, including in India. Mass atrocities (genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity) are or have been committed in Iraq, Myanmar, Central African Republic, and Burundi. It is not just the erosion of human rights but the normalisation of it that is of concern.

•The Second World War and the horrors of the Holocaust were the impetus for the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), which celebrates its 70th anniversary this year. The ideals of justice, equality, and human rights for all, enshrined in the UDHR and other international treaties, are the building blocks of international human rights law. The articulation of fundamental rights and freedoms, their implementation, and accountability for violations is a continuum. It is sometimes not easy to connect the dots between seemingly innocuous restrictions and a broader clampdown on rights, with potentially catastrophic effects. Taken to the extreme, the commission of mass atrocities do not happen in a vacuum. An environment in which rights are minimised or discarded provides fertile ground for a more concerted assault on rights. Allowing hate speech to flourish is one example. For instance, in Rwanda, judgments of the UN tribunal detail how radio stations facilitated the demonisation and ‘othering’ of Tutsis, in the build-up to genocide. As a precursor to the Holocaust, Jewish populations across Europe were deprived of basic rights including that of citizenship and the right to practice a livelihood. These highlight the perils of complacency in the current environment.

Reducing engagement

•In the international arena there are concerted efforts to advocate the inclusion of international human rights provisions in the local laws of countries and more effective implementation and monitoring. Treaty bodies assess states’ obligations to incorporate these norms into national laws, review compliance, including with main human rights treaties, and provide recommendations. Regional and supranational courts such as the Inter-American, African and European courts of human rights oversee the fulfilment of obligations of regional treaties. International and mixed judicial tribunals have been established to provide justice in mass atrocities, culminating in the establishment of the International Criminal Court. These international fora buttress crucial local efforts for greater accountability.

•However, in many instances, engagement with these mechanisms has reduced. The Philippines, for instance, imposed conditions on the UN Special Rapporteur who was to investigate the alleged extrajudicial killings of suspected drug dealers since President Rodrigo Duterte took office. In Myanmar, the UN Special Rapporteur who was to investigate the claims of persecution against the Rohingya was denied all access to the country. The UN system may not be perfect, but it helps sustain international human rights law, and there must be greater engagement with such institutions.

•The gradual erosion of rights can result in a landslide unless efforts are made to halt and reverse this process. While not a panacea, effective engagement with international human rights law is necessary in an era where rights are increasingly being stifled in many countries.

πŸ“° Cooperative Election Authority soon in Haryana

Action plan to tackle gender-based violence also getting final touches

•The Haryana government on Monday announced that a Cooperative Election Authority would be set up in the State for supervising the election process in cooperative bodies.

•Haryana Governor Kaptan Singh Solanki, addressing the Assembly on the first day of the budget session, said that the government believes in strengthening the cooperative sector to enable people to capitalise on their collective strength.

•“The government has taken a historic step by approving establishment of a Cooperative Election Authority for superintendence, direction and control of the election process in the cooperative organisations,” he said.

•He said that during this year, cooperative banks had extended loans amounting to ₹5,414.01 crore to the State’s farmers up to January 2018; 1.23 million Kisan Credit Cards have also been issued till December 2017.

•Mr. Solanki said that the State government was giving final touches to a comprehensive State action plan on sexual and gender-based violence to address all major components of crime afflicting women and children in the State.

•“The action plan would clearly delineate the responsibilities of various stakeholders on the steps to be taken by them in a time-bound manner. The government is committed to empowering women so that they may live with dignity and contribute as equal partners in the development process in an environment free from violence and discrimination,” the Governor said.

SYL canal issue

•On the controversial issue of the Sutlej-Yamuna Link canal, Mr. Solanki said the “concerted efforts” of the government have resulted in a favourable verdict from the Supreme Court on a presidential reference and since then has been vigorously pursuing the matter for initiation of the long-pending construction work on the remaining portion of the canal.

πŸ“° Threat of new malware looms over cyberspace

Saposhi can take over electronic devices and use them for DDoS attacks

•A new threat looms large on the horizon of cyberspace. After Mirai and Reaper, cybersecurity agencies have detected a new malware called Saposhi, which is capable of taking over electronic devices and turning them into ‘bots’, which can then be used for any purpose, including a Distributed Denial of Service attack which, with enough firepower, can cripple entire industries.

Being monitored

•A senior cyberpolice officer told The Hindu that Saposhi was detected around 15 days ago, and is currently being watched and studied.

•“Saposhi is similar in its intensity to Reaper, which was taking over millions of devices at the rate of 10,000 devices per day. Various cybersecurity agencies are currently keeping tabs on it to get a better idea of what it is capable of,” he said.

•In October last year, the Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT), a Central government body that deals with cyberattacks, had issued an alert about Reaper, a highly evolved malware capable of not only hacking devices like Wi-Fi routers and security cameras, but also hiding its own presence in the bot — a device taken over by a malware.

•Sources said that while the CERT has not yet issued any alert regarding Saposhi, guidelines for protecting devices from Saposhi are likely to be issued in the days to come. “We need to first ensure that the information we have is indeed substantiated before raising alarm bells. Right now, what we know for sure is that Saposhi exists, and is highly capable. Factors like whether it is aimed at any particular kind of device, or has a specific purpose are still being verified,” another officer said.

•Malwares like Saposhi, Reaper and Mirai are primarily aimed at DDoS attacks, in which the malware first creates a network of bots — called a botnet — and then uses the botnet to ping a single server at the same time. As the number of pings are far beyond the server’s capacity, the server crashes and denies service to its consumers. For example, if a large botnet attacks the server of a fleet cab provider, its server will crash, and scores of consumers will be unable to avail of its services, causing chaos in daily commuting as well as massive losses to the company.

•In July 2016, small and medium internet service providers in Maharashtra fell prey to a DDoS attack, which caused disruption in the services of several Internet Service Providers (ISP) in the State.

•Another malware, Mirai, using a botnet of 5 lakh devices, had caused the servers of Dyn, a leading domain name service provider, to crash, affecting services of popular websites like Twitter, Netflix and Reddit.

πŸ“° Opacity in the banking sector

A well-informed public can serve as a watchdog more effectively than existing banking regulatory bodies

•The Nirav Modi case, of bank fraud, has once again brought into focus the deficiencies in procedures and supervisory and regulatory controls in the banking sector. However, an equally important aspect that warrants a closer look is the opacity around the functioning of our banks that keeps the public in the dark about the extent and details of wrongdoing.

Under the RTI

•In 2011-12, the Central Information Commission (CIC) considered appeals from applicants concerning bank regulatory functions after they had been denied information, under the Right to Information (RTI) Act, by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) and the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD) about these functions. The information sought comprised copies of their inspection reports on banks, details of action taken against banks in breach of the relevant laws and regulations, and advisory notes issued by the RBI to banks and non-performing asset accounts. The denial of information was on the ground that disclosure would prejudicially affect the economic interests of the state by causing loss of public faith in some banks, and that it had been received from the banks concerned in a fiduciary capacity and could not be disclosed to third parties. Overruling this, the CIC ordered the disclosure of a good deal of information. However, its decisions were stayed by High Courts.

•These decisions by the CIC were considered and upheld by the Supreme Court on the basis of transfer petitions filed by the RBI and NABARD, in its landmark judgment in Reserve Bank of India v. Jayantilal N. Mistry and 10 other cases, which was delivered in December 2015. The court ruled that the regulatory bodies were not in a fiduciary relationship with the banks that had provided the information to them and that by attaching a “fiduciary” label to the statutory duty, they had “intentionally or unintentionally created an in terrorem effect”. The Supreme Court also rejected the ground of information disclosure hurting the economic interest of the country and observed, “RBI’s argument that if people, who are sovereign, are made aware of the irregularities being committed by the banks then the country’s economic security would be endangered, is not only absurd but is equally misconceived and baseless.”

Stop the opacity

•The judgment has guided subsequent decisions of the CIC in such matters. The CIC has also directed disclosure of information (amount disbursed, grounds underlying the decision, rate of interest, collaterals obtained, the outstanding amount and steps taken for recovery, etc.) in respect of wilful defaulters and absconders, overriding the ground of the fiduciary relationship of banks with their customers, which is one of the grounds for denial of information under the RTI Act. These decisions are based on Section 8(2) of the Act, which provides that notwithstanding the exemptions from disclosure provided in it, the information can be disclosed if public interest in disclosure outweighs the harm to the protected interest.

•Once a fraud on a financial institution has been established or a borrower declared a wilful defaulter (one who fails to honour his repayment commitments despite having the capacity to do so), or absconds, complete transparency concerning the amount involved as well as the factors and persons responsible for the loss become a matter of larger public interest. Institutions that take the responsibility of managing public funds have to be answerable to the people. The argument that information concerning such matters is the exclusive preserve of those in the government and regulatory bodies, and that people do not have the ability to comprehend and appraise it smacks of elitism. It could not be anyone’s case that the confidence of people in financial institutions should be sustained by hiding information concerning their wrongdoings. On the contrary, people ought to have all the information, good or bad, concerning such institutions so that they can make informed decisions about dealing with them. Above all, well-informed people can discharge the role of a watchdog far more effectively than all the regulatory bodies put together. Opacity deprives them of that role.

•Notwithstanding the gains mentioned, transparency in the banking sector is still work in progress. While submitting a list of defaulters who owe more than Rs. 500 crore each in the course of hearing in the Supreme Court in Centre for Public Interest Litigation v. Housing and Urban Development Corporation Ltd. , the RBI’s counsel argued that it need not be made public for the present as it was likely to affect third parties and claimed certain amount of confidentiality about the information under the RBI Act.

•The law on the issue would be clarified further as a result of future judicial pronouncements. However, the goal should be complete transparency in such matters. If there are indeed any legal provisions that prevent disclosure of full details of loans of wilful defaulters and absconders, they ought to be suitably modified.

πŸ“° Rolling back free trade?

The EU will have to show leadership to defend the current open trading system

•Contrary to his apparently conciliatory tone at the World Economic Forum in Davos, last Thursday’s announcement of steep metal tariffs leaves no one in doubt about the meaning of U.S. President Donald Trump’s “America first” agenda. A 25% duty on steel and 10% on aluminium imports for an unspecified period comes close on the heels of the safeguard tariffs imposed in January on solar panels and washing machines. These blanket tariffs are the most comprehensive of the recommendations by the U.S. Commerce Department, compared to the targeted levies and quotas against specific countries that were overruled by an instinctively protectionist President.

•In justifying the measure, the administration invoked a national security law, departing from an international consensus not to impose trade barriers. Countries are allowed recourse to that means under the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade in times of war and other emergencies. Mr. Trump reportedly did not heed suggestions that the national security argument should exempt member states of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. This break with convention could prove a potent tool for populist forces that hold sway in many countries. Ominously, it could once again revive protectionist sentiment which has been on the wane following the recovery from the global economic meltdown.

•Against this backdrop, Washington’s traditional allies, who will be hit the most from the tariffs, have warned of bilateral retaliation on U.S. goods, besides mounting a challenge at the WTO. A concern for the European Union would be to deal with the fallout from the U.S. levy on the bloc’s bloated steel industry. Hopes that the current escalation could be defused depend on the chances that countries can negotiate their way out of the tariffs, and corporations can win exemptions for their products.

•In the U.S., the latest levy is expected to put at risk millions of manufacturing jobs that rely on these metals. Conversely, it is unlikely to create significant new employment in these two sectors given that current U.S. steel and aluminium production remain close to a 10-year average. Paradoxically, imports of steel and aluminium surged substantially in anticipation of higher prices, ever since investigations were launched last spring into their impact on domestic industry. Experts have opined that the spike may have contributed to Washington’s 2017 trade deficit, which widened to its highest level since the global financial crisis.

•Republicans opposed to Mr. Trump’s approach worry that the hefty tariffs could undermine recent tax initiatives to lure investment. But the punitive levies, as with the fixation over the U.S. trade imbalance, underscore the President’s penchant for unilateral action, rather than seek redress through rules-based institutions.

•Seeking to roll back the U.S. liberal trade regime is hardly the way to influence other economies to open their markets. Instead, Brussels would have to show leadership to defend the current open trading system.

πŸ“° Odisha govt. launches ‘Ama Gaon, Ama Bikas’ rural programme

Naveen Patnaik’s bid to reach out to people in rural areas, involve them in the development process

•In a new initiative, Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik on Monday launched the ‘Ama Gaon, Ama Bikas’ (Our village, Our development) programme from the State Secretariat to reach out to people in rural areas and involve them in the development process.

•The programme was launched on the occasion of the birth anniversary of former Chief Minister Biju Patnaik, which is observed as Panchayati Raj Day in the State every year.

•Mr. Patnaik reminded the people about Biju Patnaik’s contribution to strengthen the Panchayati Raj institutions in the State.

₹2 crore sanctioned

•He interacted with people of four gram panchayats -- Narayanpatna panchayat in Koraput district, Khairabad panchayat in Jajpur district, Sasana panchayat in Sambalpur district and Sanakuda panchayat in Ganjam district – through videoconferencing during the inaugural session.

•During his interaction with Panchayati Raj representatives, Mr. Patnaik sanctioned a sum of ₹2 crore for as many as 32 projects in the four panchayats and stressed the need for their early completion.

•The panchayats were selected on the basis of performance of the Panchayati Raj institutions and the need for development work in those areas. Video vans were sent in advance to the panchayats concerned to facilitate the programme.

•According to official sources, Mr. Patnaik will hold such interactions twice a week to discuss with the people at the panchayat level about development of villages and pass orders as necessary.

Tributes paid

•A series of mini-marathons and meetings were organised by different government and voluntary organisations as well as the ruling Biju Janata Dal in Bhubaneswar and other places during the day to pay tribute to the memory of Biju Patnaik.

πŸ“° RBI to inject extra liquidity of ₹1 lakh cr.

Repo rate operation to damp volatility

•The Reserve Bank on Monday said it would inject additional liquidity of ₹1 lakh crore in banks through longer tenor instruments to enable flexibility towards meeting their fund needs.

•The RBI said in order to address additional demand for liquidity and with a view to providing flexibility to the banking system in its liquidity management towards March-end, it was “prepared to inject adequate additional liquidity using a combination of appropriate instruments.”

•This will be in addition to normal Liquidity Adjustment Facility (LAF) operations. “After reviewing the current and evolving liquidity conditions in the banking system, it has been decided to conduct additional variable rate repo operations for longer tenors to provide additional liquidity support to banks in March 2018,” it said. The RBI will conduct four variable rate term repo auctions of ₹25,000 crore each in March 2018.

•Karthik Srinivasan, ICRA, said the proposed injection of additional liquidity “should help cap the short-term rates and also aid in lowering the rate volatilities” for the rest of the month.

πŸ“° Go digital ‘hype’ pushing firms to become efficient, responsive

Technology dislodging traditional players: Infosys report

•Companies are facing an “ever-increasing” pressure to be more open, responsive and efficient with more ‘hype’ and emphasis being placed on becoming digital, according to a report on digitalisation by India ’s second largest software exporter, Infosys.

•“The rules of the game are changing and traditional players are being dislodged from positions of comfort and familiarity,” the report, titled ‘How digital enterprises are steering through digital disruption,’ stated.

•Industries are increasingly being disrupted by new entrants with digital technology at the heart of their business. With digital technologies becoming more commonplace in organisations, and “more hype and emphasis being placed on ‘becoming digital,’ there is an ever-increasing pressure on organisations to be more responsive, more open, and more efficient.” Infosys commissioned Vanson Bourne, a firm specialising in technology research, to conduct research for the report. In October and November 2017, the study was carried out, interviewing 1,000 senior IT and business decision-makers in organisations that use digital technologies. Respondents from Australia, China, France, Germany, India, UK and the U.S. were interviewed.

Difficult for many

•“For many, the journey will prove difficult, but for those that can adapt, the benefits will be significant,” it stated.

•Rapid advancements in digital technologies are allowing corporations to collect and analyse data and new ways of improving flexibility and efficiency are emerging within the firms.This has the potential to open up new growth areas and revenue streams, according to the report.

•“Whether it be to provide a better, more personalised service to customers/consumers or whether it is used to ascertain trends and develop algorithms to improve knowledge and target more effectively, the possibilities (and potential benefits) are endless.”

•“When it comes to being digital, the question is no longer ‘if’ but ‘when’ and speed is vital for organisations to survive,” according to the report.

•A vast array of digital trends are emerging and establishing which are really important to each sector hugely depends on where an organisation is currently placed and what they hope to achieve. “Organisations must put actions to words and embrace new technologies to evolve to being truly digital,” it stated.

πŸ“° High noon

Governments must ensure local-level interventions to deal with heat stress

•The India Meteorological Department’s forecast of above-normal maximum and minimum temperatures across the country during the pre-monsoon March-May period is a timely alert for State authorities to review their preparedness. Even a marginal rise above the normal will lead to enormous heat stress for millions of Indians, given the deprived conditions in which they live. Moreover, there are distinct groups at particular risk for health-related problems during a heat wave, such as senior citizens and people with pre-existing disease, mental illness or disability, which prevents them from being able to care for themselves. It is the responsibility of governments to ensure that community-level interventions are taken up to help vulnerable groups. The advent of hot weather this year is marked by temperatures rising between 1.6° Celsius and 5° C above normal in States such as Rajasthan, Jammu and Kashmir, Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh; other northern, central and eastern States also show a small increase from March 1. Of course, Tamil Nadu, Puducherry and parts of Rayalaseema have begun the season with a slight decrease in minimum temperatures, and will possibly have less oppressive temperatures in coming weeks. For most other States, though, the summer of 2018 may pose a public health challenge, for which they must prepare with the experience gained during the many previous heat waves. One scientific estimate of annual mortality attributable to heat waves between 2010 and 2015 ranges between 1,300 and 2,500.

•A spike in summer temperatures in India is not new, but some scientists contend that a half-degree rise in average temperature in recent decades has resulted in a higher probability of extreme heat waves and caused a lot of deaths. A heat event thus has serious implications for public health: it can lead to fatal heat stroke in a small percentage of people, while many more could encounter exhaustion, cramps and fainting. It is vital for governments to ensure that all stakeholders, including the health-care system, are prepared to deal with the phenomenon. The World Health Organisation recommends that countries adopt heat-health warning systems, including daily alerts to ensure that people are in a position to deal with adverse weather, starting with reduction of exposure. Water stress is a common and often chronic feature in many States: arrangements should be made to meet scarcity. There is some hope that the southwest monsoon this year will benefit from an expected moderate La NiΓ±a condition in the equatorial Pacific, marked by cooler-than-average sea surface temperature. Taking the long-term view, India has to pursue mitigation of greenhouse gases vigorously, since there is a perceived link between increases in average temperature caused by climate change and the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events.

πŸ“° Wells, rail tracks turn death traps for Gir lions

32 die of unnatural causes in two years

•As many as 32 lions died due to “unnatural causes” like falling into wells or being run over by trains in 2016 and 2017 in Gir Wildlife Sanctuary in Gujarat.

•In 2016, 12 lions died, while in 2017, 20 lions, including cubs, died due to unnatural cases, State Forest Minister Ganpat Vasava informed the State Assembly on Monday.

•According to him, a total of 184 lions died in the State in two years: 104 in 2016 and 80 in 2017.

Safety measures soon

•Replying to a question by Congress legislator Gyasuddin Sheikh, the Minister admitted that wells without parapet walls often became death traps for the lions, which fell into them and drowned.

•There are 27 open wells in Amreli district near the sanctuary, Mr. Vasava said, adding that parapet walls would be built around these wells “as soon as possible”.

•Several open wells near the sanctuary have been now secured by constructing parapet walls, and walls would also be built around the remaining wells, he said.

•Other preventive measures include construction of fences along the railway tracks passing through Amreli district and building speed breakers on roads passing through the sanctuary area.

•Incidents of lions getting mowed down by trains or vehicles on the road were often reported from the area.

•As per the 2015 census , there were 523 lions in and around the Gir sanctuary.