The HINDU Notes – 07th March 2018 - VISION

Material For Exam

Recent Update

Wednesday, March 07, 2018

The HINDU Notes – 07th March 2018






πŸ“° ‘Child marriages decline in India’

•India saw a sharp decline in child marriages over the last ten years with 27% of girls getting married before their 18th birthday as against 47% a decade ago, the UNICEF said on Tuesday.

•This decline in India has contributed significantly to a global decline in child marriages, Overall, the proportion of girls who were married as children decreased by 15% in the last decade, from 1 in 4 to approximately 1 in 5. Twenty-five million child marriages were prevented globally in the last 10 years (2005-06 and 2015-16) with the largest reduction in South Asia with India being at the forefront. “South Asia has witnessed the largest decline in child marriages worldwide, as a girl’s risk of marrying before her 18th birthday has dropped by more than a third.”

πŸ“° Sri Lanka declares state of emergency for 10 days after anti-Muslim attacks in Kandy

Riots were triggered by the death of a 41-year-old man from the majority Sinhalese community after he was beaten up by a mob, reportedly Muslims, following a road rage incident. .

•Sri Lanka on Tuesday declared a state of emergency for 10 days, to curb heightening violence targeting the island’s Muslim minority.

The development follows days of anti-Muslim attacks in Kandy, located in Sri Lanka’s Central Province. The riots, according to local reports, have so far claimed at least two lives. Several mosques, shops and homes were set to fire and destroyed over the last few days, prompting the police to impose a curfew in the town since Monday afternoon.
•On Tuesday, the government announced its decision to declare Emergency Rule after a Cabinet meeting. “President promulgated a State Emergency a short while ago to redress the unsatisfactory security situation prevailing in certain parts of the country. The Police & Armed Forces have been suitably empowered to deal with criminal elements in the society & urgently restore normalcy,” the Presidential Media Division said in a tweet.
•“At a special Cabinet meeting, it was decided to declare a state of emergency for 10 days to prevent the spread of communal riots,” government spokesman and Minister Dayasiri Jayasekara told Reuters.


Govt. under attack for 'delayed' response to violence

•Over the last week, the government and the security establishment have come under fierce public attack for what critics termed a delayed and inadequate response to escalating violence in Kandy. The riots were triggered by the death of a 41-year-old man from the majority Sinhalese community, who was beaten up by a mob, reportedly Muslim, following a road rage incident. The suspects were arrested and remanded, police said.
•The attacks in Kandy also come a week after mobs, reportedly Sinhalese, engaged in targeted anti-Muslim attacks in the eastern town of Ampara.

•Sri Lanka is the second country in the region to promulgate a state of emergency this year. Early February, Maldivian President Abdulla Yameen declared Emergency Rule for a fortnight, and later extended it by another 30 days.

πŸ“° Make the neighbourhood first again

India is sliding towards a situation where it is neither feared nor loved by other South Asian countries

•Almost four years after Prime Minister Narendra Modi began his term with a “Neighbourhood First” moment, by inviting leaders of all South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) countries to his swearing-in ceremony, India’s neighbourhood policy is clearly adrift. New Delhi’s connect with its South Asian neighbours is weaker than it has been for a very long time.

A perfect storm?

•The first problem is that for various reasons other governments in the SAARC region are either not on ideal terms with New Delhi, or facing political headwinds. In the Maldives, President Yameen Abdul Gayoom has gone out of his way to challenge the Modi government, whether it is on his crackdown on the opposition, invitations to China, or even breaking with New Delhi’s effort to isolate Pakistan at SAARC. In Nepal, the K.P. Sharma Oli government is certainly not India’s first choice, and Kathmandu’s invitation to the Pakistani Prime Minister this week confirms the chill. And no matter which party is in power in Pakistan, it is difficult to see Delhi pushing for official dialogue, especially with the military on the ascendant once again. In other parts of the neighbourhood, where relations have been comparatively better for the past few years, upcoming elections could turn the tables on India. In Sri Lanka, the recent local election results that have gone the way of the Mahinda Rajapaksa-backed party could be a portent of his future re-election. In Afghanistan, Bhutan and Bangladesh, elections this year and the next could pose challenges for India.

•The next problem is the impact of China’s unprecedented forays into each of these countries. Instead of telling the Nepal government to sort out issues with India, for example, as it had in the past, China opened up an array of alternative trade and connectivity options after the 2015 India-Nepal border blockade: from the highway to Lhasa, cross-border railway lines to the development of dry ports. In Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, the Maldives and Pakistan, China holds strategic real estate, which could also be fortified militarily in the future. At present, it means China has a stake in the internal politics of those countries. While China’s growing presence in infrastructure and connectivity projects has been well-documented, its new interest in political mediation must be watched more carefully as a result. When China stepped in to negotiate a Rohingya refugee return agreement between Myanmar and Bangladesh, or host a meeting of Afghanistan and Pakistan’s foreign ministers to help calm tensions and bring both on board with the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) connection between them, or offer to mediate between the Maldivian government and the opposition, it wasn’t just breaking with its past policy of ignoring political dynamics in countries it invests in. Beijing is now taking on a role New Delhi should have been in a better position to play, and by refusing to play it Delhi is being shown up as unfeeling, partisan or, worse, ineffective in the bargain.

•The third issue is that the Modi government’s decision to use hard power tactics in the neighbourhood has had a boomerang effect. Theoretically, given its central location in South Asia and being the largest geographically and economically, India should be expected to hold greater sway over each of its neighbours. However, the “surgical strikes” on Pakistan of 2016 have been followed by a greater number of ceasefire violations and cross-border infiltration on the Line of Control. The 2015 Nepal blockade and a subsequent cut in Indian aid channelled through the government did not force the Nepali government to amend its constitution as intended, and the subsequent merger of Mr. Oli’s Communist Party of Nepal (UML) with Prachanda’s CPN(Maoist) is seen as a reversal of India’s influence there.

•Mr. Modi’s decision to abruptly cancel his visit to Male in 2015 did not yield the required changes in the government’s treatment of the opposition, and New Delhi’s dire warnings about Mr. Yameen’s emergency in the past month have led to the Maldives cancelling its participation in the Indian Navy’s “Milan” exercises. Even in Bangladesh, the Indian Army chief, General Bipin Rawat’s tough talking last week about immigration has drawn ire there, with Bangladesh’s Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan describing the remarks as untrue, unfounded and not helpful.

•While many of these factors are hard to reverse, the fundamental facts of geography and shared cultures in South Asia are also undeniable, and India must focus its efforts to return to a more comfortable peace, and to “Making the Neighbourhood First Again”.

Time for reversal

•To begin with, despite conventional wisdom on the benefits of hard power and realpolitik, India’s most potent tool is its soft power. Its successes in Bhutan and Afghanistan, for example, have much more to do with its development assistance than its defence assistance. It’s heartening, therefore, that after sharp drops in 2016 (of 36%) and 2017 (of 19%) year on year, the budget allocations for South Asia have seen an increase (of 6%) in 2018. After the Doklam crisis was defused in 2017, India also moved swiftly to resolve differences with Bhutan on hydropower pricing, and this February it announced a tariff hike for energy from Bhutan’s Chhukha project, the first in several years.

•Next, instead of opposing every project by China in the region, the government must attempt a three-pronged approach. First, where possible, India should collaborate with China in the manner it has over the Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar (BCIM) Economic corridor. Second, when it feels a project is a threat to its interests, India should make a counter-offer to the project, if necessary in collaboration with its Quadrilateral partners, Japan, the U.S. and Australia. Third, India should coexist with projects that do not necessitate intervention, while formulating a set of South Asian principles for sustainable development assistance that can be used across the region.

•This will all only be possible if India and China reset bilateral ties, which have seen a marked slide over the past few years. It is noteworthy that the government appears to have started this process with Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale’s recent visit to Beijing.

Learning from ASEAN

•It will also be impossible to renew the compact with the neighbours without reviving the SAARC process. In their book The ASEAN Miracle, Kishore Mahbubani and Jeffery Sng describe in detail the need for SAARC to learn from the success of ASEAN. Mr. Mahbubani suggests that leaders of SAARC countries meet more often informally, that they interfere less in the internal workings of each other’s governments, and that there be more interaction at every level of government. They also say that just as Indonesia, the biggest economy in the ASEAN, allowed smaller countries such as Singapore to take the lead, India too must take a back seat in decision-making, enabling others to build a more harmonious SAARC process.

•“It is much safer to be feared than to be loved,” wrote Niccolo Machiavelli, “when one of the two must be wanting.” The government’s challenge is to steer India towards a course where it is both feared and loved in appropriate measure, and away from a situation in which it is neither feared nor loved.

πŸ“° Populist wave: on the Italian elections

As Italians reject the mainstream parties, EU integration could take a hit

•As the dust settles on the Italian parliamentary elections, it is unclear who the next Prime Minister will be. But two things are clear. First, the election was a strong rejection of the incumbent, centre-left Democratic Party (PD), which has managed just 19% of the vote. Second, there is a strong anti-establishment undercurrent, with the largest vote share (32%) to a single party going to the Five Star Movement (M5S). Given the recent changes in Italian electoral law, which now combines proportional representation and the first-past-the-post system, a party or coalition will need at least 40% of the vote to form the government. The centre-right coalition, which includes the scandal-ridden former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia, the anti-migrant and Eurosceptic Lega and the far right Brothers of Italy, has secured 36%. What’s more, Lega, led by the rabble-rouser Matteo Salvini, has won over 17% of the vote, elbowing Mr. Berlusconi out of the role of kingmaker and reinforcing Italy’s move away from the centre. It appears that a growing but troubled economy and the migrants crisis have left Italians disenchanted with business-as-usual politics as well as the European Union, a pattern that has become all too familiar across Europe over the last few years. Recovery from the 2008 financial crisis has been slow. Italy is growing at 1.5%, below the Eurozone average, and unemployment is close to 11%; some 18 million Italians are said to be at risk of poverty. A feeling that the rest of the EU has left Italy high and dry in tackling the migrants issue — over 600,000 have arrived in Italy since 2013 — has added to the sense of Euroscepticism.

•Italy is going through a protracted period of political negotiations before a new government can start taking shape in Rome. The M5S, which had initially said it would hold a referendum on the euro, more recently toned down its stance but continues to seek greater economic freedom from Brussels. It has taken a strong stance against migration and says it wants to improve governance. Luigi Di Maio, the 31-year-old leader of the M5S, who for long had said the party would go it alone, is now seeking partners to form a government. This could, for instance, mean the M5S partnering with the PD or the Lega. Barring a shared Euroscepticism, the M5S and the Lega mostly differ in their values. In addition to its distrust of Europe, Lega has made no bones about its extreme and dangerous views, specifically its anti-migrant and anti-Muslim stance. Mr. Salvini has claimed the moral right to form a government given the centre-right coalition’s share of the vote. However, politics makes for strange bedfellows, and an M5S-Lega government cannot be ruled out. Such an outcome would, however, severely hamper French President Emmanuel Macron’s and German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s plans for greater integration across the EU.

πŸ“° ‘Emergency will improve security’

As Italians reject the mainstream parties, EU integration could take a hit

•As the dust settles on the Italian parliamentary elections, it is unclear who the next Prime Minister will be. But two things are clear. First, the election was a strong rejection of the incumbent, centre-left Democratic Party (PD), which has managed just 19% of the vote. Second, there is a strong anti-establishment undercurrent, with the largest vote share (32%) to a single party going to the Five Star Movement (M5S). Given the recent changes in Italian electoral law, which now combines proportional representation and the first-past-the-post system, a party or coalition will need at least 40% of the vote to form the government. The centre-right coalition, which includes the scandal-ridden former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia, the anti-migrant and Eurosceptic Lega and the far right Brothers of Italy, has secured 36%. What’s more, Lega, led by the rabble-rouser Matteo Salvini, has won over 17% of the vote, elbowing Mr. Berlusconi out of the role of kingmaker and reinforcing Italy’s move away from the centre. It appears that a growing but troubled economy and the migrants crisis have left Italians disenchanted with business-as-usual politics as well as the European Union, a pattern that has become all too familiar across Europe over the last few years. Recovery from the 2008 financial crisis has been slow. Italy is growing at 1.5%, below the Eurozone average, and unemployment is close to 11%; some 18 million Italians are said to be at risk of poverty. A feeling that the rest of the EU has left Italy high and dry in tackling the migrants issue — over 600,000 have arrived in Italy since 2013 — has added to the sense of Euroscepticism.

•Italy is going through a protracted period of political negotiations before a new government can start taking shape in Rome. The M5S, which had initially said it would hold a referendum on the euro, more recently toned down its stance but continues to seek greater economic freedom from Brussels. It has taken a strong stance against migration and says it wants to improve governance. Luigi Di Maio, the 31-year-old leader of the M5S, who for long had said the party would go it alone, is now seeking partners to form a government. This could, for instance, mean the M5S partnering with the PD or the Lega. Barring a shared Euroscepticism, the M5S and the Lega mostly differ in their values. In addition to its distrust of Europe, Lega has made no bones about its extreme and dangerous views, specifically its anti-migrant and anti-Muslim stance. Mr. Salvini has claimed the moral right to form a government given the centre-right coalition’s share of the vote. However, politics makes for strange bedfellows, and an M5S-Lega government cannot be ruled out. Such an outcome would, however, severely hamper French President Emmanuel Macron’s and German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s plans for greater integration across the EU.

Sri Lankan President Sirisena says armed forces have been empowered to deal with ‘criminal elements’

•The emergency imposed on Tuesday marks the first time in seven years Sri Lanka has resorted to such a measure. The island nation was under a state of emergency for nearly three decades during the civil war. The war-time emergency ended in August 2011.

•The current emergency measures give authorities sweeping powers to arrest and detain suspects for long periods, and deploy forces where needed.

•President Maithripala Sirisena said the measures would “redress the unsatisfactory security situation prevailing in certain parts of the country”. “The police and armed forces have been suitably empowered to deal with criminal elements in the society and urgently restore normalcy,” he said.

•Earlier on Tuesday, the Sri Lankan government came under severe attack in Parliament for “pandering to extremist forces” in the Sinhala majority community.

•Leader of Opposition and senior Tamil politician R. Sampanthan said that the anti-Muslim attacks were indicative of a sense of impunity. “People seem to have the confidence that they can engage in such acts and that the arm of the law would not reach them,” he said.

•Tamil National Alliance Jaffna district parliamentarian M.A. Sumanthiran said: “the fundamental belief that one must pander to the extremists within the majority community must change. Until then other communities that are numerically inferior will never feel like equal citizens.”

•Accusing the government of “lacking spine”, Mr. Sumanthiran said: “It [a spine] is not there in the President, the PM or in any of the Cabinet Ministers. If you can’t stand up for what is right, stand up for the numerically smaller communities in your country, then you have no right to govern.”

•The tension between the majority Sinhalese and minority Muslims, who currently account for nearly 9% of the country’s population, has a long history, according to M.A. Nuhman, senior academic in Kandy. “The first major incident of riots in Sri Lanka was in 1915, targeting Muslims. The anti-Muslim sentiment among Sinhalese subsided a bit when Tamil militancy emerged. And after the war ended in 2009, it seems to have resurfaced,” he said.

Anti-Muslim violence

•During the country’s civil war years, Muslims suffered violence and displacement when the LTTE forcefully evicted them from the north in the early 1990s.

•Sri Lanka has witnessed several attacks against Muslims since 2012, including two major clashes in the southern towns of Aluthgama and Gintota in 2014 and 2017 respectively.

•More recently, a number of mosques and Muslim-run establishments were attacked by Sinhalese mobs in Ampara last week.

πŸ“° ‘Fix or nix’ Iran deal, Netanyahu tells Trump

Mr. Trump has a May deadline to decide whether to impose nuclear sanctions on Iran again. If he choses to impose sanctions, the deal will collapse.

•The singular focus of his five-day tour of the United States this week is Iran,Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said. He met U.S. President Donald Trump for two and a half hours on Monday, and talks on peace with Palestinians took not more than 15 minutes of it. "Iran, Iran and Iran,” Mr. Netanyahu told a group of reporters, on what they both discussed. "The president is very knowledgeable about Iran," Mr. Netanyahu said.

•Mr. Trump has a May deadline to decide whether to impose nuclear sanctions on Iran again. If he choses to impose sanctions, the deal will collapse.

•"He has impressive knowledge of the details…The president will decide whether to renew the agreement…He was very interested in my estimations and my recommendations,” Mr. Netanyahu said. "Fully fix, or get rid of it, fully nix. This is what I told him.”

•The White House said in a readout on the meeting: “President Trump underscored his goal of countering Iran’s malign influence. The President also emphasized his commitment to achieving a lasting peace deal between Israelis and Palestinians.”

•Before the meeting, Mr. Netanyahu lavished praises on Mr. Trump, comparing him to the Persian king who “proclaimed that the Jewish exiles in Babylon can come back and rebuild our temple in Jerusalem…. twenty-five hundred years ago.” According to the PM, Mr. Trump would be remembered by the Jews for ages, for his decision to shift the American embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv.

•“If I had to say what is our greatest challenge in the Middle East to both our countries, to our Arab neighbors, it's encapsulated in one word: Iran. Iran has not given up its nuclear ambitions. It came out of this nuclear deal emboldened, enriched. It's practicing aggression everywhere, including on our own borders. And I think we have to stop this country -- the chants, "Death to Israel," "Death to America." Iran must be stopped. That is our common challenge,” Mr. Netanyahu said. Mr. Netanyahu is scheduled to speak at the annual conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and meet with lawmakers in Washington.

πŸ“° It is time to have a debate on proportional representation, says ex-CEC S.Y. Quraishi

•The former Chief Election Commissioner on the problem with electoral bonds, the unnecessary controversy over EVMs, and electoral reforms needed

•Various electoral reforms are currently being debated, from improving transparency in party funding to holding simultaneous elections. In a wide-ranging conversation, former Chief Election Commissioner (2010 to 2012) S.Y. Quraishi addresses these issues. He also talks about, among other things, the challenge posed by electoral bonds, the concerns over the tampering of electronic voting machines (EVMs), and the problems with the first-past-the-post system.

•Excerpts:

Electoral bonds, as announced by the Union Finance Minister, hold the promise of making political funding transparent, which has been a long-standing demand of the Election Commission (EC). Do you think electoral bonds are the solution?

•When the Finance Minister began his Budget speech, he said without transparency in political funding, free and fair elections are not possible. This was music to my ears. But what he offered was just the opposite. So far, all donations above ₹20,000 were disclosed to the EC. It is, of course, a different matter that political parties accept donations in crores and convert them into cheques of ₹20,000 — and this is more than 75% of all collection of political parties where sources are unknown. Now, with electoral bonds, 100% source will be unknown. The government has decided to give precedence to the donors’ wish to be anonymous. There was a CII (Confederation of Indian Industry) report of 2015 which said that donors want anonymity for two reasons: one, other parties would make a beeline for their donations, and two, fear of political reprisal from those not getting the donation. The real reason probably was that they don’t want the quid pro quo to get known. Finally, the donors’ desire for transparency has got preference over citizens’ desire for transparency and the people’s right to know, which is more important in a democracy and critical for the fairness of elections.

•I must add, however, that there is one good thing about electoral bonds: cash transactions will not happen as people will have to buy bonds through the bank.

The government, and not the public or even the EC, would know who is giving what, right?

•Yes, absolutely. And it is the government which can harass the donor more than any political party out of power. Reprisal, if any, can come only from the government. The government has empowered itself to know exactly who is giving what to whom. This is not what we in the EC were expecting and striving for.

Is the removal of the 7.5% cap (based on profits over three years) on corporate donations a good idea?

•Not at all. The cap existed for a good reason — that the companies should not start influencing political processes. Now companies can exist just to run India’s politics. That is what crony capitalism is, and now it has been legalised. Billionaire-run companies will run Indian politics. The government has created a Frankenstein’s monster for itself. Nobody is in power permanently. Therefore, instead of thinking of long-term national interest, short-term political interest has been given precedence.

Has there been any reprisal against a donor in the past?

•The solution lies in having a National Electoral Fund, where companies can donate without indicating preference for any political party and thereby avoiding the reprisal they claim to fear. The fund can be distributed transparently on the basis of actual performance. I have given a formulation: for every vote cast in favour of a candidate, ₹100 can be given. If 55 crore people cast their votes, the National Electoral Fund distributes ₹5,500 crore among parties/ candidates.

Will that money be enough for political parties?

•I would say more than enough. The basis of my argument is that between 2009 and 2014, the total donation shown by all political parties was ₹4,000 crore. With all their efforts at blackmailing, arm-twisting and corruption, they got ₹4,000 crore. Here they get ₹5,500 crore with dignity, by cheque, based on their performance, on objective criteria. And this is one figure which cannot be fudged. All political parties have been demanding an end to electoral corruption, and state funding of elections. We are opposing state funding of elections as that will be impossible to monitor, and suggesting state funding of political parties, [which is] easy to monitor. There will be no scope for fly-by-night political parties. They will have to first perform in an election before they receive any funds.

What do you think about simultaneous elections, an idea which has been mooted by the Prime Minister?

•It is a desirable idea. It has many advantages, some of which were listed by the Prime Minister. And they mainly have to with the huge costs and dislocation of normal life. I add two more. Money in elections is the fountainhead of all corruption. If you are always in election mode, you are always in corruption mode. Secondly, communalism and casteism are at a peak during elections. Hateful, divisive politics is the consequence of frequent elections.

•The arguments in favour of staggered elections are equally strong. What do people want? As a Biju Janata Dal MP once remarked, people love elections as the vote is the only power they have. Secondly, election time provides work opportunities to lakhs of youth. At a recent Chhatra Sansad in Pune, I heard this interesting remark from a young girl from Chhattisgarh: “Jab jab chunav aata hai, garib ke pet mein pulav aata hai (Whenever the elections come, the poor get some food).” Thus, in a way, frequent elections are good for the economy as the money goes from the rich to the poor. Thirdly, national and local issues don’t get mixed up.

•Interestingly, initially the Prime Minister had mentioned that there should be simultaneous elections at all three levels. Somewhere down the line, the third tier has disappeared from the debate. So, you have already compromised on one-third of the suggested reform. Of the remaining two-thirds, half has been sacrificed by the suggestion of the Parliamentary Standing Committee and Niti Aayog that if it is not feasible to hold elections once in five years, let there be two in five years!

•Fourthly, let’s not forget that India is a federal country. Regional parties have an increasingly important role to play. If they feel threatened by the proposal, they are bound to oppose it, making consensus impossible.

•In a scenario where 29 State governments have come to power with absolute majority, if at the Centre the government falls, why should the States suffer? Of course, the anti-defection law is there to discourage this to a considerable extent. But in an era of coalition governments, there is always the possibility of governments falling, when a partner chooses to leave.

You had mentioned in an essay that it is time to review the first-past-the post system (FPTP)? Has the demand for replacing FPTP with proportional representation (PR) become louder after the 2014 general elections?

•When I wrote An Undocumented Wonder: The Making of the Great Indian Election, which came out in the middle of the elections of 2014, I had written that FPTP was the best system for its simplicity. I had also discussed various PR systems but dismissed them as not being practical for India. After the 2014 elections, I felt compelled to change my position when we saw that even with the third largest vote share of 20%, one party (the Bahujan Samaj Party) got zero seats. This is not democracy. I think it is time to have a national debate on this. We could look at the German model where they have a mixed system — half PR and half FPTP.

Doesn’t PR carry the threat of further dividing our society on caste, religious and other lines? When parties are promised seats in proportion to their votes, don’t you think politicians will find innovative ways means of forming newer parties?

•No way. In fact, it may make the competitive, no-holds-barred politics of today less bitter as the parties will hope to have their presence in the legislatures according to their vote share instead of being wiped out completely even after getting a sizeable vote share.

There is a debate on EVMs. Should we go back to paper ballots?

•Certainly not. Our EVMs have stood the test of time. Every, I repeat, every political party has raised questions about EVMs at different times. And when with the same machines they come to power, they go silent.

•In any case, after introduction of voter verifiable paper audit trail (VVPAT), there is no ground left to quibble. VVPAT makes the system transparent and foolproof.

•The EC said that at least 25% of the booths in a constituency should have VVPATs. But ground reports suggest otherwise.

•That must be old hat. The EC has now committed to the Supreme Court that every election in future would be with 100% VVPAT. The Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh elections were the first-ever full VVPAT elections. The dispute now is, how many machines would be counted for voter chits countercheck. The EC has said one booth per constituency. There are 200-300 polling booths per constituency. One is certainly too little for the purpose it was introduced. Let the EC discuss it at an all-party meeting to arrive at a consensus.

Has the credibility of the EC taken a hit?

•In the context of CEC Achal Kumar Jyoti’s decision on Gujarat election dates, you mean? But the same Mr. Jyoti was applauded for his verdict in the Gujarat Rajya Sabha elections. The problem lies in the process of appointment of Election Commissioners. They are appointed by the government of the day with no consultation with the Opposition. The controversy was unfair to Mr. Jyoti just because he was from Gujarat. We should have a collegium to appoint the CEC. When we can have a collegium system for the CVC (Central Vigilance Commissioner) and the CIC (Central Information Commissioner), which are not even constitutional bodies, why can’t we have one for the most critical constitutional body, the EC? The most powerful electoral body in the world has the most defective system of appointment. This reform cannot wait.

πŸ“° CJI-led Bench to resolve conflict over judgments

Contradictory verdicts in a land acquisition case

•Amid a conflict over “judicial discipline” within the Supreme Court in connection with certain land acquisition cases, a five-judge Bench led by Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra on Tuesday decided to resolve the conflict which once again threatened to lay bare the simmering tensions within the highest judiciary.

•The controversy is centred on a February 8 judgment by a three-judge Bench, led by Justice Arun Mishra, in a land acquisition compensation case.

•This judgment, in a majority opinion, had declared a previous 2014 verdict of another three-judge Bench of then Chief Justice R.M. Lodha, Justices Madan B. Lokur and Kurian Joseph on the same subject, as per incuriam — that is, delivered without care for the law or facts.

Contradictory verdicts

•Thus, contradictory verdicts on an identical subject of law dealing with compensation payable for land acquired largely from farmers by two different but numerically same Supreme Court Benches became a source of confusion among litigants and lawyers.

•The reigning contradiction between the two judgments was brought to the attention of another three-judge Bench, this time composing of Justices Lokur, Kurian and Deepak Gupta, during the hearing of a land acquisition case on February 20.

Judicial discipline

•Justice Kurian immediately voiced his concern in open court about fellow judges “tinkering with judicial discipline” and declaring each other’s judgmentsper incuriam .

•The judge said the Supreme Court judges should function as “one” rather than in disparate voices.

•Subsequently, Justices Mishra and A.K. Goel, both who formed the majority opinion in the February 8 verdict, referred the pending cases of land acquisition before their respective Benches, to the Chief Justice, who, in turn, placed it before a Constitution Bench.

•Though the Constitution Bench did not stay the February 8 verdict, the first hearing saw Justice A.K. Sikri, one of the five judges on Bench, remark that the declaration of the 2014 verdict per incuriam “appears to be prima facie wrong”.

Question of procedure

•Chief Justice Misra observed that the Constitution Bench would now test the “correctness” of both the 2014 verdict and the subsequent but contrary view taken by Justice Mishra’s Bench on February 8.

•The Constitution Bench also said it would declare whether a Supreme Court Bench can pronounce a coordinate Bench’s order per incuriam instead of referring the question to a larger Bench.

πŸ“° Banks face $3 bn write-off from PNB scam

Loans worth ₹8,000 crore to Nirav-Choksi firms also turn toxic

•The ₹12,700 crore Letters of Undertaking (LoU) fraud at the Punjab National Bank (PNB) could punch a bigger hole in India’s banking system as the closure of Nirav Modi and Mehul Choksi’s jewellery businesses by investigative agencies, is likely to result in another ₹8,000 crore of loans extended to them by banks turning into non-performing assets (NPAs).

•According to Reserve Bank of India (RBI) guidelines, banks have to write off the entire loan amount once a fraud has been reported. So, the entire $2 billion exposure of the country’s second largest bank PNB through LoUs issued in favour of Nirav Modi group firms will have to be booked as an NPA. Now, banks are preparing for another ₹8,000 crore or about $1.2 billion in bad loans, taking the total damage to about $3 billion.

•ICICI Bank leads the consortium of lenders to Choksi's Gitanjali Gems. The total amount of bank loans to Gitanjali stands at around ₹5,300 crore. ICICI Bank has an exposure of ₹500 crore . However, Punjab National Bank has the largest exposure to the Gitanjali group.

•Bank loans to Nirav Modi’s firms — Firestar International Private Limited and Firestar Diamond International Private Limited — stand at about ₹2,500 crore.

•Most banks have appraised their boards about their exposure to these companies. Bankers said the loans to these companies were already at the second category of special mention accounts (SMA-2).

•If a loan repayment is due for over 60 days but less than 90 days, the account is accorded SMA-2 status.

•If the dues remain unpaid for 90 days, it is classified as non-performing.

Shops shut

•Gitanjali Gems sold jewellery under brands such as Gili, Nakshatra, Asmi and Sanjini.

•Nirav Modi’s stores as well as those operated by Mr Choksi’s Gitanjali Gems shut shop across the country after raids by investigative agencies.

•Mr. Modi and Mr. Choksi are the prime accused in the PNB fraud and have left the country.

•“Since all the shops are now closed, their business is definitely hit and they are not in a position to repay their debt. This would mean bank exposure to these entities will have to be classified as non-performing,” said a chief executive of a bank.

•On February 14, 2018, PNB, the second largest lender of the country, informed stock exchanges about the fraudulent transactions of $1.8 billion or ₹11,500 crore in which unauthorised letters of undertakings were issued to secure overseas credit.

•Later, the bank said the amount of fraudulent transactions could go up by another $204.25 million or ₹1,130 crore, taking the total money involved in the scam to $2 billion.

•The Enforcement Directorate, which conducted searches at several premises of Nirav Modi and Gitanjali Gems across the country immediately after the scam came to light, has seized assets over ₹5,000 crore, sealed a gamut of properties and frozen several bank and demat accounts of Mr Modi and Mr Choksi.

•In a recent letter to the PNB management, Mr Modi had said the search and seizure operations has “jeopardized our ability to discharge the dues of the group to the banks.”

CBI arrests Vipul Chitalia

•In a major breakthrough, the Central Bureau of Investigation on Tuesday arrested Vipul Chitalia, the vice-president (banking operations) of Mehul Choksi’s Gitanjali Group of companies, in connection with the Punjab National Bank fraudulent transactions.

•Mr. Chitalia was produced before a Mumbai court that granted his custody to the CBI till March 17.

πŸ“° Delhi govt. clears plan for ration at doorstep

Proposal approved by Cabinet; to be sent to Lieutenant-Governor for nod

•The Delhi government on Tuesday approved a proposal to start home or doorstep delivery of ration under the Targeted Public Distribution System to all beneficiaries, announced Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia. The decision was taken following a meeting of the Cabinet chaired by Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal.

•The move allows home delivery of ration, including wheat flour, rice and sugar, in sealed packets under the National Food Security Act, 2013. The proposal, the Delhi government said, is aimed at providing a higher level of transparency in the delivery system through inbuilt online monitoring, which will weed out corruption and diversion of foodgrain, and intends to “save time and resources of ration beneficiaries in Delhi”.

Chief Secy. attends meet

•The proposal will now be sent to Lieutenant-Governor Anil Baijal for his approval. It was mooted by the Department of Food, Supplies and Consumer Affairs. The meeting was also attended by Delhi Chief Secretary Anshu Prakash and other officials concerned.

•“Attempts were made to put roadblocks in the passage of the scheme but it was approved by the Cabinet today (on Tuesday). It will now be sent to the L-G for his consent. I will request the L-G to consider it keeping in mind the poor residents of Delhi, and pass it instead of allowing the opinion of one or more members of the bureaucracy to stall it due to one reason or another,” Mr. Sisodia said at a press conference.

•Theft of ration, poor quality of supplies and closed shops were the major issues that residents were facing, and the implementation of this new scheme would put an end to these, he added.

•“The Delhi government is committed to ensure that eligible beneficiaries receive their due ration in a transparent manner with maximum ease,” Mr. Sisodia said.

•Once approved by the L-G, the service provider for home delivery of ration will be selected in “a transparent manner through open bidding”, a senior government official said following the announcement.

•The attention of the Cabinet, the Delhi government said in a statement, was also drawn to the extant rules and guidelines issued by the Union Ministry of Consumer Affairs asking the State governments to ensure home delivery of ration to the beneficiaries experiencing difficulty in getting their entitled quantum of subsidised foodgrain due to old age, physical disability and other reasons. According to the government official, there are around 7.2 million PDS beneficiaries in the Capital.

Metro Phase IV delay

•The Deputy Chief Minister also took the opportunity to react to Union Minister Hardeep Singh Puri’s remarks about the Aam Aadmi Party government “sitting” on the Delhi Metro Phase IV project, which is pending for the last three years.

•“The proposal says that many of the routes (under Phase IV) are not viable and if implemented in its current form, the Metro fares will have to be increased, which will affect the common people. We have to make it more practical so that the daily commuters do not suffer,” he said.

πŸ“° Turf wars with ISRO stall connectivity: DoT official

Flags problem of “domains” between the organisations

•India builds the cheapest satellites but has the most expensive bandwidth, a government official said on Tuesday, blaming turf wars between the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) and the Department of Telecom (DoT) for delays in taking connectivity to far-flung areas.

•DoT’s special secretary N. Sivasailam also flagged issues of costs and said the ISRO should do more in order to keep the charges on par with global experience.

•Mr. Sivasailam said more transponders were required on satellites.

•According to him, there is a “problem of domains” between the DoT and the ISRO that has impacted the roll-out of connectivity in far-flung areas for 20 years.

•“The problem is of domains. We (DoT) don’t want to leave our domain. ISRO doesn’t want to leave its domain. It is a domain-related problem...I do not see people coming together and negotiating this aspect out,” he said.

‘It’s hurting business’

•Admitting that there is “politics” which “makes things difficult”, Mr. Sivasailam pitched for both the agencies getting over the problems for the benefit of all.

•“It is time it stopped because it is hurting business development and ultimately people are not getting (benefited),” he said, speaking at the annual FICCI Frames.

•On the critical issue of costs, he said it will cost around ₹150 to serve one user with the current cost structure in the country whereas in the U.S., it costs $1 or ₹65.




•“If the U.S. is getting it for USD 1 for the same bandwidth for the life of the satellite, I should be getting it at the same rate. There is no reason why it should not happen in India. That is my refrain,” he said.

•Conceding that ISRO helps take satellite connectivity to 5,240 far-flung locations in the country, including 4,300 in the Northeast, Mr. Sivasailam said the cost of the satellite, bandwidth and spectrum makes “operations unviable.”

•“If you have the volume of business, we should be able to provide at the rates internationally available and that is a matter of some concern for us. We have been working on it but not necessarily successful on this,” he said.

πŸ“° Aadhaar link deadline may be extended: govt.

Centre tells SC that some more time is needed to conclude hearing in the case

•The deadline for mandatory linking of Aadhaar to avail various services and welfare schemes run by the government may be further extended beyond March 31, the Union government indicated in the Supreme Court on Tuesday.

•The Centre said that since some more time would be needed to conclude the prolonged hearing in the Aadhaar case, the government may extend the deadline from March 31.

•A five-judge Constitution Bench led by Chief Justice Dipak Misra agreed with the contention of Attorney General K.K. Venugopal.

•“We have extended the deadline in the past and we will extend the deadline again but we may do it by the end of month to enable the petitioners in the case conclude the arguments,” Mr. Venugopal said.

•“It is a very valid point raised by the Attorney General and the court would not allow repetitive arguments made by the petitioners’ counsel in the matter,” Chief Justice Misra observed.

•On December 15 last year, the court had extended till March 31 the deadline for mandatory linking of Aadhaar with various services and welfare schemes run by the government.

πŸ“° Rs. 1,000 cr. for research and innovation

•Human Resource Development Minister Prakash Javadekar said on Tuesday that in a major boost for research and innovation, the Centre had sanctioned Rs. 1,000 crore for the Phase II of the Impacting Research Innovation and Technology (IMPRINT) India programme.

•In a statement at the Visitor’s Conference in New Delhi, he said that under the IMPRINT-II, a fund was being created by the Department of Science and Technology and the HRD Ministry in which participation would come from the industry and interested Ministries. “Under the IMPRINT-I Programme, 142 projects at a cost of Rs. 318.71 crore are under implementation. These projects cover crucial domains like security and defence, information technology, energy, sustainable habitat, advance materials, health care, nano technology, climate change, etc.,” said a release.

πŸ“° ‘ONGC Videsh, Iran’s IDRO Oil sign accord’

Firms to bid for Susangerd field: IRNA

•ONGC Videsh, the overseas arm of government-owned ONGC, has signed a cooperation agreement with Iran’s IDRO Oil to jointly bid for a $900 million development plan of Susangerd oilfield in southwest Iran, Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) reported on Tuesday.

•ONGC did not comment on the development when contacted. Given a similar MoU with Russia’s Zarubezhneft, the aim of the accord with ONGC Videsh was to form a possible consortium, IRNA quoted IDRO Oil managing director Nasrallah Zarei, as having said.

•The Susangerd field, discovered in 2009, is estimated to hold more than 5 billion barrels of in-place reserves.

Joint working group

•IDRO Oil, Russia’s Zarubezhneft and ONGC Videsh will now set up a joint working group “as soon as possible” and once they reach a final agreement, they would begin negotiations with National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC) for a contract, Mr. Zarei was quoted as saying.

•The developmentcomes in the wake of ONGC Videsh’s announcement on Monday that the Government of Mozambique had given its approval for the development plan for the Golfinho-Atum natural gas field in the Area 1 block in the Rovuma Offshore Basin of Mozambique.

•The plan outlines the integrated development of the Golfinho-Atum field through an initial two train onshore liquefaction plant with a total processing capacity of 12.88 million metric tonnes per annum (MMTPA).

πŸ“° India to join multilateral lender EBRD

European Bank of Reconstruction and Development shareholders approve its entry as 69th member

•India has got the go-ahead to join the European Bank of Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), after shareholders of the London-based multilateral lender agreed to the country becoming its 69th member, enabling Indian companies to undertake joint investments in regions in which the EBRD operates.

•“This is an important step in the relationship between the EBRD and India, allowing us to build further on already very close ties,” said the development finance institution’s President Suma Chakrabarti.

•Set up in 1991, based on a proposal by former French President Francois Mitterand, the bank’s initial focus was helping central and Eastern European nations reconstruct their economies in the post-Cold War era.

•It remains committed to furthering the development of “market-orientated economies and the promotion of private and entrepreneurial initiative.” Other members who receive investments include Mongolia, Turkey, Egypt, Cyprus, Greece and Lebanon, among a total of 38 member states. Others including China, the U.S., U.K., and France are stakeholders, whose companies are able to invest in EBRD projects, but do not receive financing for domestic projects.

•While Indian businesses have already cooperated on EBRD projects worth some €982 million, the hope is that the membership, which will see India take up a small stake in the bank, would spur further investment by Indian firms in a range of sectors from solar to utilities, providing them access to fast growing markets. It will also enable Indian citizens to work for the organisation.

•India’s stake will also give it a say in the direction of the EBRD’s future work. The EBRD’s largest shareholder is currently the U.S., while other G7 nations also hold significant stakes.

•Following the approval of Indian membership, India is expected to join EBRD within the first half of the year.

Quick processing

•The process for India’s approval moved swiftly: from its formal application on December 18, to the decision going to the board of directors in late January.

•The EBRD works with the private sector and also local governments in the provision of services and infrastructure across 38 nations – with projects ranging from transport provision to agribusiness, heating, waste management, to renewable energy.

•In 2017, the EBRD signed a pact with the International Solar Alliance, which was unveiled in 2015 in Paris.

πŸ“° First U.S. LNG shipment to reach India from Louisiana facility this month

Under 2011 pact, GAIL to buy 3.5 million tonnes of gas a year from Sabine Pass

•India will receive its first LNG import from the U.S. later this month. The cargo from Cheniere Energy’s Sabine Pass LNG export facility in Louisiana was loaded on to GAIL’s chartered LNG ship ‘Meridian Spirit’ on March 5.

•The sale purchase agreement was signed in December 2011 and the cargo is expected to discharge LNG at the Dabhol terminal of GAIL on or around March 28.

•Under the terms of the agreement, GAIL would purchase approximately 3.5 million tonnes of LNG per year from Cheniere’s Sabine Pass.

•“With supplies commencing from the U.S., GAIL will have a diversified portfolio both on price indexation and geographical locations.

•This long-term pact would go a long way in strengthening ties between GAIL and Cheniere and reinforcing India-U.S. trade ties,” B.C. Tripathi, chairman & managing cirector, GAIL, said in a statement. GAIL, which commands 75% market share in gas transmission, is expanding pipeline network by about 5,000 km at an investment of more than $3 billion to operate more than 16,000 km by 2020.

‘Productive ties’

•“The commencement of this agreement marks the start of a long and productive relationship between Cheniere and GAIL,” Cheniere CEO Jack Fusco said. “GAIL is one of the foundation customers of Cheniere, having signed the contract in 2011 and India remains an important market for LNG.”

πŸ“° Innovations to combat ‘microfiber’ pollution

Tools filter washing machine effluent

•The fight to keep tiny pollutants from reaching the dinner plate might start in the laundry room. Innovators are coming up with tools to keep tiny pieces of thread that are discharged with washing machine effluent from reaching marine life. Such “microfibres” are too small to be caught in conventional filters, so they eventually pass through sewage plants, wash out to waterways, and can be eaten or absorbed by marine animals, some of which are later served as seafood.

Four products

•So far, there are at least four products, with names such as Guppyfriend and Cora Ball, aimed at curbing microfibres. The developers are taking the war on pollution to a microscopic level after the fight against microbeads, found in some beauty products that were banned nationally in 2015.

•“Blaming the industry or the government won’t solve the problems,” said Alexander Nolte, co-founder of Guppyfriend, a polyamide washing bag designed to prevent tiny threads from escaping. “Buy less and better; wash less and better.”

Coastal ecosystem

•The issue has become an increasing focus of environmental scientists seeking to find just how harmful microfibres are to coastal ecosystems, oceans and marine life and whether they affect human health. A 2011 study, led by Australian ecotoxicologist Mark Browne, found that microfibres made up 85% of man-caused shoreline debris.

•Exactly how much microfibre pollution exists in the environment is a subject of research and debate. The UN has identified microfibre pollution as a key outgrowth of the 300 million tons of plastic produced annually. And a 2016 study in the Environmental Science & Technology found that more than a gram of microfibres is released every time synthetic jackets are washed and that as much as 40% of those microfibres eventually enter waterways.

•While there’s no question microfibres are escaping into the environment, it’s unclear how harmful they are, said Chelsea Rochman, an ecology professor at the University of Toronto who plans a study at the end of the year.

•One of the questions, she said, is whether the problem is the fibres themselves or dyes in them, and whether natural microfibres such as wool and cotton are less harmful than plastic microfibres.

•Guppyfriend is a polyamide washing bag designed to prevent tiny threads from escaping. Cora Ball is a multicolored ball designed to bounce around the washing machine, trapping microfibres in appendages that resemble coral. Lint LUV-Ris a filter that attaches to a laundry water discharge hose.While the U.S. Census has found more than 85 percent of U.S. households have a washing machine, the items are new to the market and not familiar to most consumers. About 50,000 households use the Guppyfriend bag, Mr. Nolte said, and it might be the best known of the bunch.

•The inventor of the Cora Ball is the nonprofit environmental group Rozalia Project, headquartered in Granville, Vermont. Its co-founder says it had its product independently studied and found it can cut the amount of microfibres released through the wash by more than 25%. An independent review by a German research institute found that Guppyfriend caused textiles to shed 75 to 86% fewer fibres.

Consumer solution

•“This is a consumer solution for people to be part of by throwing it in their washing machine,” said Rachael Miller, co-founder of Rozalia Project. The products serve to bring attention to a form of pollution unknown to most people, said Kirsten Kapp, professor at Central Wyoming College.

•“We are learning more and more every day about the risk that microfibres and microplastics have in our aquatic habitats and wildlife species,” Kapp said. “I think it’s something people should be aware of.”




No comments:

Post a Comment