The HINDU Notes – 25th April 2018 - VISION

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Thursday, April 26, 2018

The HINDU Notes – 25th April 2018

πŸ“° The dragon beckons again

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to China should be seen in the context of the flux of global geopolitics

•Prime Minister Narendra Modi goes to China on April 27, against the background of turbulence in global geopolitics and some domestic disquiet about “softening” of India’s China policy.

•The international backdrop is worrying in many respects. The face-off between the U.S. (and its allies) and Russia is arguably worse than during the Cold War. They confront each other, through proxy forces, in three active conflict zones — Ukraine, Syria and Afghanistan. The recent U.S.-French-British missile strikes in Syria were a stark reminder. It now emerges that prior communication to the Russians had ensured that equipment, personnel and civilians had been evacuated in advance. However, such deconfliction arrangements seem to be episodic, and there is a lurking danger that miscalculation or brinkmanship might spark off a direct conflict at a local level.

Edgy confrontation

•Sanctions — particularly the new U.S. legislation, CAATSA (Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act), under which it can impose sanctions on any company which engages with Russia in the defence or energy sector — impart a sharper edge to the confrontation. This weapon was not wielded in anything like this form in the Cold War; its impact could be far more devastating in today’s globalised world. Recent American sanctions on major Russian multinationals, whose stocks are internationally traded, widened the target beyond Russian oligarchs to a larger body of shareholders within and outside Russia.

•As the U.S. ratchets up pressure on Russia, it has donned kid gloves in dealing with China, as indicated by U.S. President Donald Trump’s tweets. A recent tweet appreciates Chinese President Xi Jinping’s “kind words on tariffs and automobile barriers” and “his enlightenment on intellectual property and technology transfers”.

Trade issues

•While India is being asked to address its trade surplus of about $25 billion with the U.S., Mr. Trump asked China (in a tweet last month) to reduce its massive trade surplus of about $375 billion with the U.S. by just $1 billion! He probably meant $100 billion, as has been suggested by his Administration, but it is worth noting that in 2017 alone, the U.S.’s trade imbalance rose by about $28 billion. America’s decision to withdraw from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a free trade grouping excluding China, effectively benefited China.

•India itself, running a trade deficit of over $50 billion with China, is in difficult negotiations on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), a free trade grouping that includes China, ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations), Japan, Korea, Australia and New Zealand.

Unpredictable U.S.

•The unpredictability of U.S. foreign policy is driving even its closest allies to hedge their options. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzō Abe and Mr. Xi are to exchange visits in the near future — a significant breakthrough in relations between two strategic rivals, who were on the verge of a military confrontation about five years ago. Japan (like India) is concerned about China’s assertiveness in its neighbourhood and the geopolitical implications of its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

•Yet, having failed to persuade Mr. Trump (with whom he claims excellent personal chemistry) to rethink U.S. withdrawal from the TPP and uncertain about the consistency of U.S. policy in the region, Mr. Abe sees benefit in sustaining a dialogue with China, whose positive response reflects its own desire to keep in touch with a U.S. ally, in the face of conflicting U.S. signals on trade and security policies.

•The sharpening of U.S.-Russia acrimony has complicated India’s relations with both countries. Besides pressure to address the India-U.S. trade imbalance, India has been warned that its defence and energy links with Russia could attract U.S. sanctions under CAATSA — a development which could have a major impact on our defence preparedness. Russia’s intensifying defence cooperation with China and its actions in Afghanistan and with Pakistan are areas on which serious and delicate high-level India-Russia dialogue is being pursued.

Mutual interest in serenity

•This is the backdrop to the current “reset” in India-China relations. With a strengthening Russia-China axis and with the U.S. taking its eye off China to deal with Russia, it is prudent for India to maintain a harmonious dialogue with China, even as we deal with the wrinkles in our relations with the other two great powers. China’s motivation in extending the olive branch may be similar: to maintain serenity in relations while it deals with its other challenges.

•This is not to say that India should not stand firm on its core interests, political, economic or strategic. We cannot overlook Chinese designs in our neighbourhood — from Doklam to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and the Maldives — or ignore the larger geopolitical threat posed by the land and sea corridors of the BRI. It is just that circumstances may have opened up some space for furthering mutual interests, without compromising on our other interests.

•Countries do not publicly admit adverse asymmetries in relations, but their policymakers have to factor them into their policies and actions. Of course, even countries in adverse asymmetric relationships have levers which can and should be used to further their vital interests. In most cases, this is best done through quiet dialogue instead of public airing of differences, which hardens attitudes.

Importance of messaging

•It is a valid point that the public messaging on this change in tone of the India-China relationship could have been better. The course of India-China relations in the past couple of years had created a public narrative of bilateral frictions over CPEC, Doklam, our Nuclear Suppliers Group membership and other issues, on which India had to take strong public positions. The transformation in the international environment, creating opportunities for non-confrontational dialogue, could perhaps have been better explained. Foreign policy can be pursued far more effectively when it is supported by public perceptions.

•The reality is that India has to maintain a pragmatic balance in its relations with the three major powers, remaining conscious of the fact that elements of these relations will be continuously impacted by the dynamic flux of today’s global geopolitics.

•The Prime Minister’s visit to China should be seen in this context.

πŸ“° ‘Iran may quit NPT if Trump scraps deal’

•A senior Iranian official said on Tuesday that Tehran might quit a treaty designed to stop the spread of nuclear weapons if U.S. President Donald Trump scraps the nuclear accord Iran signed with world powers in 2015.

•Mr. Trump has said that unless European allies fix what he has called “terrible flaws” in the accord by May 12, he will restore U.S. economic sanctions on Iran, which would be a severe blow to the pact.

•In a news conference broadcast on state television, the secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, Ali Shamkhani, said the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran was ready for some “surprising actions” if the nuclear deal was scrapped.

•Answering a question about the possibility of Tehran withdrawing from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), Mr. Shamkhani said: “This is one of three options that we are considering.”

•Iran has been a non-nuclear-weapon state party to the NPT since 1970.

•Iranian President Hassan Rouhani also warned Mr. Trump on Tuesday to stay in the nuclear deal or face “severe consequences”.

•Iran has said it will ramp up its nuclear programme if the deal collapses.

•In a UN non-proliferation conference in Geneva, Russia and China submitted a draft statement expressing “unwavering ”support” for the Iran nuclear accord and said they hoped it would receive broad backing.

πŸ“° U.S. to end work permits for H-1B spouses

U.S. to end work permits for H-1B spouses
Aim is to prevent fraud in immigration

•Ending work permits for spouses of H-1B visa holders is one of the several measures being taken by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). L. Francis Cissna, Director of the USCIS, said in a recent letter to a lawmaker that the measures are meant to “ensure the integrity of the immigration system.”

•Mr. Cissna said these initiatives that specifically target non-immigrant work programmes such as H-1B, aim “to protect the economic interests of the U.S. workers and prevent fraud and abuse in the immigration system.”

•In December 2017, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) had announced that it was planning to make changes in the rules that allowed a certain category of H-4 visa holders — spouses of H-1B visa holders — to obtain Employment Authorisation Documents (EAD).

2015 ruling reversed

•“…our plans include proposing regulatory changes to remove H-4 dependent spouses from the class of aliens eligible for employment authorization, thereby reversing the 2015 rule that granted such eligibility,” he wrote to Senator Charles E Grassley on April 4.

πŸ“° H-1B comes under immigration scanner

This year, renewal applications for the visa are being treated as fresh petitions

•The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is taking forward proposals to end work permits for spouses of H-1B visas holders. In December 2017, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) had announced that it was planning to make changes in the rules that allowed a certain category of H-4 visa holders — spouses of H-1B visa holders — to obtain Employment Authorisation Documents (EAD). The Barack Obama administration allowed EAD for them in 2015 after several years of debate.

•A court case challenging the rule is pending and the DHS is expected to submit its proposed changes in the rules in May to the court.

•According to USCIS data, 1,04,750 H-4 visa holders have been issued EAD until 2017. Most of them are Indians and most of them are women. In an April 4 letter to Senator Charles E. Grassley, USCIS Director Francis Cissna said the agency had announced the curbs earlier and the public would have an opportunity to provide feedback during a notice and comment period, as is the case with all regulatory change.

Series of steps

•No deadline has been specified for these steps.

•Mr. Cissna had written a similar letter to a group of 15 lawmakers in March also, after they sought the continuation of the H4 EAD.

•The letter to Mr. Grassley lists a series of steps that the USCIS has already implemented as per President Donald Trump’s ‘Buy American, Hire American’ executive order issued last year.

•The USCIS has tightened the documentation requirements for H-1B employees working at third-party work sites, a business model that several Indian software companies depend on.

•The USCIS has said that starting this year, it may approve H-1B visas for a duration shorter than three years, which has been the norm until now. The agency has also started treating H-1B renewal applications as fresh petitions, requiring the petitioners to establish the eligibility all over again.

•As a result, requests for additional information before renewal petitions are processed have dramatically increased under the Trump administration.

Targeting misuse

•Mr. Cissna said in the letter that the agency has been aggressively targeting misuse of the programme.

•“We have dedicated email addresses to make it easier for the public to report suspected fraud and abuse… in the programmes,” he said.

•This year, the USCIS received 1,90,098 H-1B petitions during the filing period which began on April 2. Through a lottery, the agency has selected 85,000 beneficiaries, 20,000 of whom qualify under the ‘masters’ cap. As the processing of these petitions progresses, the impact of the new measures could be felt.

πŸ“° Decision to reject motion timely, not hasty: Venkaiah

Decision to reject motion timely, not hasty: Venkaiah
It was turned down after over a month of due diligence, he tells SC lawyers

•The decision to dismiss the impeachment motion, moved by Opposition parties against Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra, was timely and not taken in haste, Vice-President M. Venkaiah Naidu told 10 senior Supreme Court lawyers who met him on Tuesday.

•In his order on Monday, Mr. Naidu said the Opposition parties were “unsure” of their case. The Congress, which initiated the motion, called the decision “ill-advised and hasty.”

•Senior officials of the Rajya Sabha Secretariat, who were present at the meeting, said Mr. Naidu told the lawyers that he took the decision after over a month of “due diligence and in strict conformity with the provisions of the Constitution and the Judges (Inquiry) Act, 1968.” The lawyers thanked him for “saving the dignity of the office of the Chief Justice of India and the Supreme Court.”

•The officials said Mr. Naidu told the lawyers that his office had been working on the provisions, procedures and precedents since the Opposition began consultations on moving the motion.

•This is not the first instance of an impeachment motion having been shot down by the Rajya Sabha Chairman. A motion was moved against Supreme Court judge J.C. Shah, and it was rejected by the then Lok Sabha Speaker, G.S. Dhillon, in 1970. Justice Shah became the Chief Justice of India.

‘No post office’

•“The law concerned [the Judges (Inquiry) Act, Section 3] required the Chairman of the Rajya Sabha to look for prima facie in the matter for either admitting the notice or refusing to do so. A clear responsibility is cast on the Chairman... and it would not be correct to interpret the role of the Chairman as that of a mere post office. The Chairman is required to act as a constitutional functionary, which is a substantial responsibility,” Mr. Naidu told the lawyers, the sources said.

•He said the decision was not hasty, but timely. There could have been adverse consequences had a constitutional functionary not acted in time. “The Chief Justice of India is the highest judicial functionary of the country, and any issue in the public domain concerning him requires to be resolved at the earliest through the prescribed procedures so as to prevent the atmosphere from being vitiated further.”

πŸ“° Death by hanging not barbaric: govt.

Responding to a PIL challenging the constitutionality of hanging to death, the Centre cited statistics of botched executions by lethal injection or firing squad in other countries.

•Death by hanging is not as “barbaric, inhuman and cruel” as an execution by firing squad or lethal injection, the Centre told the Supreme Court on Tuesday, responding to a PIL challenging the constitutionality of hanging till death.

•The government traced statistics of “botched-up” administration of lethal injections to condemned prisoners in the United States for 110 years to prove its point that this mode of State execution is only “designed to create an appearance of serenity and painless death.” Besides, the lethal chemical, if known to the public, would possibly be misused.

•Likewise, the government graphically detailed the horrors of death by firing squad. How, if the shots miss the heart, the prisoners slowly bleeds to death. Besides, it would be very difficult to find volunteers for the firing squad from the country’s civilian police force.

•The PIL was filed by advocate Rishi Malhotra challenging the constitutionality of hanging to death as a mode of execution. Section 354 (5) of the Code of Criminal Procedure mandates that a person sentenced to death shall “be hanged by the neck till he is dead.”

•“Hanging with more advanced procedures is far safer than techniques such as lethal injections... the procedure by which a death sentence is to be executed is dependent upon a variety of factors such as economic feasibility, availability of skilled and technical personnel, equipment and resources, rate of botched executions,” the counter-affidavit said.

•The Centre said the mode of execution is a “matter of legislative policy.”

•The government said the death penalty is awarded only in the rarest of rare cases. There have been only three execution between 2012 and 2015. The recent Law Commission of India recommendation to confine death penalty only to offences of terrorism and waging of war against the country is under examination.

•The Supreme Court, in an earlier hearing, had said that a condemned convict should die in peace and not in pain. A human being is entitled to dignity even in death. Issuing notice in the PIL, the court had earlier asked the government to consider the the “dynamic progress” made in modern science to adopt painless methods of causing death.

•But the court has already clarified that it is not questioning the constitutionality of death penalty, which has been well-settled by the apex court, including in Deena vs. Union of India and earlier in the Bachan Singh case reported in 1980.

πŸ“° Master of the next steps

With the notice for his impeachment rejected, Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra should proactively initiate reform

•In an unprecedented move, seven Opposition parties finally initiated the process to impeach the Chief Justice of India (CJI), Dipak Misra. Vice-President, and Rajya Sabha Chairman, Venkaiah Naidu has rejected the motion. Whether the Vice-President can himself examine the merits of the impeachment motion in itself is debatable as this is the job reserved for the inquiry committee under the Judges (Inquiry) Act,1968.. The matter may soon be in the Supreme Court. And if it is, the CJI should not constitute a Bench to hear this petition if the credibility of our judiciary is to be preserved.

On the Bench

•One charge against Justice Mishra pertained to the arbitrary use of his powers as ‘master of the roster’. On April 11, a three-judge Bench headed by the CJI had given a judgment upholding absolute power of CJI in the constitution of benches. A similar order was passed by a five-judge Bench again headed by the CJI in November 2017, when for the first time in the Supreme Court’s history, administrative powers were used within 24 hours to overrule a judicial order of a Bench, in this case headed by Justice J. Chelameswar. Another two-judge Bench of Justices A.K. Sikri and Ashok Bhushan is scheduled to hear Shanti Bhushan’s petition later this week. Thus, Bench constitution is at the core of current crises and something must be done about it without attributing motives to the CJI.

•“As a repository of constitutional trust, the Chief Justice is an institution in himself,” said Justice D.Y. Chandrachud, who authored the 16-page April 11 order. Thus we are told not to question the CJI’s decisions. But then by the same logic, is Rashtrapati Bhavan not an institution? Is the Prime Minister’s Office not an important institution of our democracy? Is Parliament not the most important institution? If the answer to these questions is in the positive, then how come decisions by these high constitutional functionaries are routinely struck down by the judges of High Courts and Supreme Court?

•In fact if men were angels, there would be no need to limit the powers of public officials through constitutional means. Judges too are humans like us and thus are fallible. Judges are our last resort against governmental authoritarianism and that’s why they must be insulated from the governmental control. But similar protection at times may be needed against at least the ‘administrative actions’ of Chief Justices. Thus if civil liberties are seen to be under threat due to potential abuse of powers by Chief Justices, a review of earlier judgments likePrakash Chand (1998) that held the Chief Justice as an ‘absolute’ master of the roster should be urgently taken up.

•Constitutionally speaking, the judiciary is not ‘state’ under Article 12. But inNaresh S. Mirajkar (1967), the apex court itself made a distinction between ‘judicial’ and ‘administrative’ powers of the court. Thus when the CJI acts in his ‘administrative’ capacity, his actions are certainly subject to fundamental rights, including the right to equality.

On equality

•Right to equality includes right against arbitrariness. In E.P. Royappa (1973), the Supreme Court itself expanded the protection of equality when it observed that “From a positivistic point of view, equality is antithetic to arbitrariness. In fact equality and arbitrariness are sworn enemies; one belongs to the rule of law in a republic while the other, to the whim and caprice of an absolute monarch.” InTulsiram Patel (1985), the Supreme Court itself held that non-observance of the principles of natural justice too violates right to equality. Thus the CJI’s participation in cases about his own powers has not gone well with those who believe in the fundamental rule of natural justice that ‘no one shall be a judge in his own case’. His recusal could have enhanced his own credibility and saved the judiciary from the crises.

•The Supreme Court Rules, 2013, framed under Article 145 of the Constitution, do state that CJI is master of rolls. But since constitution of Benches is an ‘administrative’ function, this function cannot be exercised at the CJI’s whims and wishes. Thus the cherry-picking in Bench constitution may not be violative of ‘the rule by law’ but is definitely contrary to the ideals of ‘the rule of law’. Spirit of law at times is more important than letter of law.

•An interpretation accepting no limitations on the exercise of the powers of the CJI and justifying even power to act in an arbitrary manner means a re-writing of the entire jurisprudence developed by the Supreme Court on the exercise of ‘administrative discretion’. Isolated cases of even improper use of power should never be criticised, and the Vice President rejected the motion because of this. But if there is pattern in which Benches are being constituted, it is to be more closely examined.

•In Prem Chand Garg (1962), the apex court held that rules made by the court violative of fundamental rights may be struck down as ultra vires of the Constitution. Thus if the rule of the CJI being master of rolls is used in an arbitrary manner, such a rule should either be read down or there should be safeguards built into it.

•Certainly, all judges are equal and seniority has no bearing on the constitution of Benches. But then equality also means that senior judges be treated equally with junior judges. Their exclusion from all constitutional Benches has certainly sent the wrong signals. Since in the roster prepared by the CJI after the press conference by four senior-most judges, some subjects have been assigned to more than one judge, the CJI again decides on his own who gets which matters and thus has not in any way improved the situation in reducing his discretion. Moreover, all important matters have been reserved for the CJI.

Amend the Rules

•The CJI yet again has this opportunity today which he should proactively use to bring in real reforms by amending the Supreme Court Rules on constitution of Benches. Any CJI would have a fairly good idea about the ideological positions of all the brother judges and therefore even if there is no malice on his part, he can always constitute a Bench with judges who are likely to go this way or that. This power therefore has a huge impact on the justice delivery system. In the wake of the current crises, some mechanism can be evolved to ensure that one individual does not have absolute power to make or unmake Benches. We may disagree with a number of judicial and administrative decisions of the CJI. But none of his actions can really amount to ‘incapacity or proved misbehaviour’, i.e. grounds of impeachment, and thus the rejection of the notice by the Vice-President.

•Let the CJI himself come forward in leading the process of developing the mechanism that will exclude the remotest possibility of arbitrariness by future CJIs.

πŸ“° Urdu and patriotism

It is time to reassert Urdu’s unique contribution to the constructionof India’s inclusive identity

•The language that gave the country the most popular slogan of the independence movement and produced unmatched patriotic verses during the freedom struggle suffered the most from Partition. Wrongly associated exclusively with Muslims and appropriated by Pakistan as its official language, Urdu has languished in India since Independence.

•“ Inquilab zindabad ” or “long live the revolution,” coined by Urdu poet and freedom fighter Hasrat Mohani in 1921, became the principal slogan of millions who marched under Mahatma Gandhi’s leadership to demand the end to British rule. Subhas Chandra Bose chose three Urdu words as the motto for his Indian National Army: ittehad , itmad , qurbani , or unity, confidence, sacrifice.

•Poet-philosopher Muhammad Iqbal’s Ode to India, “ Saare jahan se accha, Hindostan hamara ”, or “Our India is unrivalled in the world”, came close to being adopted as the national anthem. During the independence movement it reverberated throughout the country with stirring verses such as “ Mazhab nahi sikhata, apas mein bair rakhna ; Hindi hain hum watan hai Hindostan hamara ”, or “Religion does not teach us to bear malice towards one another; We are all Indians and India is our homeland.”

•This poem was projected as the national anthem of the country as India neared Independence and was recited at the opening session of the Constituent Assembly in December 1946. Had Pakistan not appropriated Iqbal as the progenitor of the idea of a Muslim homeland, the poem, unparalleled for its simplicity and intensity of emotion, would have certainly been adopted as the national anthem.

•Urdu poetry was a major vehicle for the expression of patriotism and defiance of British rule. Ramprasad Bismil’s “ Sarfaroshi ki tamanna ab hamare dil mein hai” (“The desire for martyrdom burns in our hearts”) became extremely popular once word spread that Bhagat Singh recited it on his way to the gallows. Josh Malihabadi’s “ Mera naara, inqilaab o inqilaab o inqilaab ” (“My slogan: revolution, revolution, revolution”) captured the spirit of the times succinctly.

•There is a gem of a poem by Iqbal titled “ Naya Shivala ” or “New Temple,” which has not received adequate recognition. Here, Iqbal argues that Indians must shed their differences and build a temple dedicated to India rather than to a particular deity. In conversation with an imaginary Brahmin, Iqbal berates the latter for harbouring malice towards fellow countrymen. He simultaneously accuses the Muslim preacher for imbibing nothing but violence from his God. Iqbal concludes with the ringing assertion: “Finally, in disgust I have given up both the temple and the mosque; I have given up listening to the Muslim preacher’s sermons and to your tales; You think that God resides in your idols of stone and clay? To me, every particle of my country’s dust is God”.

•It is time to reassert Urdu’s unique contribution to the construction of India’s inclusive national identity currently under threat from divisive forces of communalism and chauvinism.

πŸ“° Back to the court

The impeachment controversy is now abouta presiding officer’s power to reject a motion

•With the Rajya Sabha Chairman rejecting the notice given by 64 Opposition members for the impeachment of the Chief Justice of India, the focus has shifted to the presiding officer’s power to admit or reject a motion. The Congress, spearheading the move, is planning to approach the Supreme Court. Section 3 of the Judges (Inquiry) Act, 1968, says the presiding officer may admit or refuse to admit the motion after holding consultations with such persons as he thinks fit, and considering the material before him. The law is open to interpretation on whether he can reject the motion on merits without sending the charges to a committee for investigation. A common sense view suggests the Chairman has to apply his mind to the nature of the charge. To argue that he should merely satisfy himself on the number of signatures appended to the motion and straightaway constitute a probe committee is unlikely to find judicial favour. However, it needs a court to delineate the contours of such an interpretation. Rajya Sabha Chairman and Vice-President M. Venkaiah Naidu held there is little merit in any of the five charges. He has considered the implications for judicial independence if an investigation were ordered into charges that he says are based on mere suspicion and conjecture. He has picked holes in the motion’s wording, saying the signatories themselves are unsure of the veracity of the charges.

•As for the legal foundation of his order, Mr. Naidu has cited the Supreme Court ruling in M. Krishna Swami v. Union of India (1992), which directed the Speaker (or Chairman) to act with utmost care, circumspection and responsibility and to keep equally in mind “the seriousness of the imputations, nature and quality of the record before him, and the indelible chilling effect on the public administration of justice and the independence of the judiciary in the estimate of the general public”. He has also gone by Mehar Singh Saini (2010) to elaborate on the phrase “proved misbehaviour or incapacity”, used in Article 124(4) of the Constitution, the ground for impeachment of a Supreme Court judge. What is possibly the main charge — that Justice Misra misused his control over the roster to assign cases selectively with a view to influencing their outcome — is indeed a serious one. But the question is whether impeachment is an option in the absence of concrete material to establish this charge. The Opposition is divided on initiating impeachment proceedings and there are two views within the Congress itself. Taking the matter to court may result in a judicial resolution, but it is unlikely to end the controversy over the functioning of the Supreme Court, an issue that has unfortunately assumed a very political and polarised character.

πŸ“° Centre seeks suggestions on long term capital gains clause

Opens discussions on govt.’s power to specify applicability

•The Centre on Tuesday opened for public discussion its proposed clause in the Income Tax Act that would give the government the power to specify the applicability of the long term capital gains tax and the security transaction tax.

•The Finance Act 2018 had introduced Section 112A in the Income Tax Act, to provide that long term capital gains arising from the transfer of a long term capital asset, if it is an equity share in a company, be taxed at 10% of the value of the gains exceeding ₹1 lakh. “The said section, inter alia, provides that the provisions of the section shall apply to the capital gains arising from a transfer of long-term capital asset being an equity share in a company, only if securities transaction tax (STT) has been paid on the acquisition and transfer of such capital asset,” the government said in a release.

‘Genuine cases’

•“However, to provide the applicability of the tax regime under Section 112A of the Act to genuine cases where the STT could not have been paid, it has also been provided in sub-section (4) of Section 112A of the Act that the Central Government may specify, by notification, the nature of acquisitions in respect of which the requirement of payment of STT shall not apply in the case of acquisition of equity share in a company,” the government added.

•The government has put up the draft notification proposed to be issued under Section 112A (4) for suggestions from the public.

πŸ“° Nabbing absconders

The ordinance is not enough; the government needs to plug many more legal loopholes

•Last Saturday, within hours of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s return to Delhi from an overseas tour, the Union Cabinet approved the promulgation of the Fugitive Economic Offenders Ordinance, 2018. A fugitive is defined as someone who has left India to avoid criminal prosecution or who is already overseas and refuses to return to face the law. In recent weeks, banks have been asked to mandatorily collect passport details of those borrowing above Rs. 50 crore, and the passports of some wilful defaulters are being impounded too. Given that the proposed legislation was announced well over a year ago, the trigger for this belated haste is easy to see. While presenting Budget 2017-18, the Finance Minister referred to instances of offenders fleeing the country to escape its justice system, and said the government was looking at a law to confiscate the assets of such persons till they return to face the law. By September, the Finance and Law Ministries had agreed on a draft Bill, but it was only introduced in the Lok Sabha this March, in a session that proved to be a washout. The government is no doubt conscious of the clamour for tough action on absconding offenders, particularly those involved in financial misdemeanours and wilful defaulters of bank loans.

•There remains great consternation over liquor baron Vijay Mallya’s flight from the country, with his now-defunct Kingfisher Airlines having run up outstanding loans of over Rs. 9,000 crore from Indian banks. Both Mr. Mallya and former Indian Premier League commissioner Lalit Modi, who faces an Enforcement Directorate probe for foreign exchange law violations, are in Britain. They left Indian shores for safer climes under the NDA government’s watch, as did diamond merchants Nirav Modi, Mehul Choksi and their associates, whose firms defrauded the country’s second largest public sector bank of over Rs. 12,800 crore. India is no closer to getting Mr. Modi or Mr. Mallya back to face the law, with extradition proceedings against the latter crawling through U.K. courts. No clear indications about whether their return could be expedited emerged during Prime Minister Modi’s meeting with his British counterpart Theresa May last week. Meanwhile, though government agencies have attached the diamond merchant duo’s assets in India, an American court has disallowed the sale of their assets in other jurisdictions while allowing their U.S.-based entity to offload its assets. The reason: India is yet to pass a model law mooted by the UN for cross-border insolvency cases. It is not clear whether this ordinance can tide over this major handicap. The government may have opted for the ordinance route to deflect the heat from these cases of fraud, but it needs to present a coherent vision about its plans to bring back those fugitives who have already got away and plug the remaining loopholes in the system.

πŸ“° Concern over decline in Indo-Pak. trade

‘Sports, people-to-people contact can bring in peace, stability’

•Expressing concern over the declining trade between India and Pakistan due to escalation in tensions along the borders in recent months, Punjab Chief Minister Capt. Amarinder Singh and Pakistan’s High Commissioner to India Sohail Mahmood on Tuesday stressed the need for concerted efforts on both sides to ease tensions through people-centric measures.

•At an informal meet here, both Capt. Amarinder and Mr. Mahmood agreed that the downslide in trade was detrimental to both the countries.

•While Capt. Amarinder favoured reviving the Indo-Pak Punjab games, saying sporting events could play a pivotal role in boosting people-to-people relations on both sides of the Punjab border, Mr. Mahmood said that more people-level contacts between the two nations could help pave the way for long-term peace and stability in the region.

Spirit of harmony

•“It was important for the development and progress of both the countries that they work in a spirit of harmony to promote the welfare of their respective people,” said Mr. Mahmood.

•The games that were launched in 2004 from Patiala included hockey, cycling, athletics, gymnastics, polo, handball, wrestling, badminton, volleyball, tug-of-war, shooting and kabaddi.

•Capt. Amaridner said that the enthusiasm with which these were received by sports persons and others from both sides was remarkable.

Prisoners’ repatriation

•Mr. Mahmood raised the issue of repatriation of prisoners from both sides who had completed their terms, saying that the clearances should be expedited for the purpose.

•An official statement said that both Capt. Amarinder and Mr. Mahmood underscored the need for promoting bilateral trade as a means to further the peace process, and also strengthen the fundamentals in both the countries to facilitate their economic and social development.

•“They agreed that both India and Pakistan could ill-afford to alienate themselves from each other in the transforming global milieu, where the two nations were faced with many common threats and enemies,” said the statement.

•Mr. Mahmood, also met Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar and pointed out that as there are lot of similarities between the countries, there should be an exchange from both sides in the field of sports and culture so as to strengthen bilateral relations.

πŸ“° Regulation of e-commerce necessary to protect consumers, spur growth: Prabhu

‘Norms shouldn’t impede industry’s functioning, all stakeholders to be consulted’

•The government can regulate the e-commerce industry in a manner that safeguards the interests of the consumer and at the same time help the industry grow, Commerce Minister Suresh Prabhu said on Tuesday.

•“The industry has grown so far even without government support,” Mr. Prabhu said while addressing the meeting of the e-commerce think tank set up by the government.

•“The question is how can we make the sector, which is a B2C sector, grow keeping in mind the larger interest of the consumers. So, regulation is something which the government can do, but it must be such that it actually helps industry to grow.” He added that the government is expecting strong growth in the domestic e-commerce market and is preparing accordingly.

•“India is poised to be a $5 trillion economy in 7-8 years, maybe even less than seven years,” the Minister added. “Today, services are almost two-third of the economy, and we feel very strongly that services will continue to be a growth engine of the economy. Now, the great dominant sector in services is the IT sector.”

•He added that due to the influence of the IT sector, there were increases in the productivity and efficiency of a number of other sectors.

Digital vs paper

•“Almost 70% of railway tickets were booked online, when I was Railway Minister,” he said. “We found out through a survey that people want those digital services more than paper-based services. So, how can we make e-commerce grow even more?” The Minister added that the government would consult all stakeholders, including consumers, before coming out with any policy to do with e-commerce.

•“The regulations must not interfere with the functioning of the industry,” Mr. Prabhu said. “And it must be robust and flexible and forward-looking and must follow technology.”

πŸ“° Army set to break a glass ceiling

Readying plan to grant permanent commission to the women in its ranks

•The Army is holding consultations for preparing a plan to grant permanent commission to women in its ranks as it becomes the last military arm to give up resistance to women serving until their age of retirement.

•A senior Army officer said the government had to submit an affidavit on the policy changes within two weeks to the Supreme Court, and a final policy would be ready in six months. “The combat arms do not look ready for women for now, but time is not far away when even those will open up to women,” he said.

Combat arms

•The officer said discussions about combat arms were increasingly about the logistics of accommodating women in the operational areas, and not any more about women’s capability to serve on the frontlines.

•The Centre on Monday told the Supreme Court that it was considering granting permanent commission to women officers who are in service now as Short Service Commission (SSC) officers. Those under the SSC get to serve a maximum of 14 years with multiple extensions, and have to leave service without pension in their 30s.

•The Air Force and the Navy shed their opposition to granting permanent commission to women in 2010. As of now, 350 women serve both the forces as permanent commissioned officers, besides doctors and nurses who have historically served alongside male counterparts.

•The Army mounted a legal challenge in the Supreme Court after the Delhi High Court in 2010 ordered all the three arms of the military to grant permanent commission to women officers. Army sources said the arguments are now boiling down to two key issues: the practical challenges in deploying women in active areas such as Kashmir; and the logistics requirements to accommodate them in areas that have been built exclusively for men.

πŸ“° New system to measure air quality

To be jointly developed by the U.S. and Finland to forecast pollution levels

•India is tying up with the United States and Finland to develop a pollution-forecast system that will help anticipate particulate matter (PM) levels at least two days in advance and at a greater resolution than what is possible now. The Ministry of Earth Sciences (MoES) will be coordinating this exercise and the plan is to have a system in place by winter, according to Madhavan Rajeevan, secretary, MoES.

•Currently, the System of Air Quality and Weather Forecasting and Research (SAFAR), run out of the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology, Pune, serves as the apex forecaster of pollution trends in Delhi, Mumbai, Pune and Ahmedabad. It generates a likely air quality profile, a day in advance, for these cities. IITM is an organisation under the MoES.

•The new system, to be jointly developed with expertise from the Finnish Meteorological Institute and the U.S.’ National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, will use a different modelling approach as well as computational techniques from that employed in the SAFAR model.

Better resolution

•“SAFAR will continue to be the backbone [for pollution forecast] but this system, which will require our scientists to get special training, will use a different method of analysis. This could mean better resolution and more accurate forecasts,” said Mr. Rajeevan.

•A key focus would be to develop forecasts around the “stubble-burning season” that adds to Delhi’s pollution woes in the winter. This refers to the partially-burnt straw and chaff from fields in Uttar Pradesh and Haryana, when farmers are preparing their fields for the sowing season. “We hope to develop the system before this winter,” Mr. Rajeevan added.

•Last week, the Union Environment Ministry released a draft of the National Clean Air Programme (NCAP) that aims to improve air quality monitoring in India by increasing the number of pollution monitoring stations and, incorporating it into a pollution forecast system.

πŸ“° ISRO recalls mega GSAT-11 from Kourou for re-tests

The 5,700-kg satellite was slated for launch on May 26

•Just over a fortnight after flying GSAT-11 out to Kourou for launch, the Indian Space Research Organisation has recalled the heaviest communication satellite it has built. The reason is said to be for conducting additional technical checks in Bengaluru, where it was built.

•The 5,700-kg high-throughput or Internet broadband satellite had reached French Guiana in South America on March 30 and was slated for launch on May 26 (IST), according to its launch agency Arianespace.

•ISRO’s spokesman and officials were not reachable for comment.

•The European space transporter said on Tuesday that it has postponed the Ariane 5 launch numbered VA 243 that was initially planned for May 26, 2018 in the wee IST hours “[d]ue to additional technical checks with ISRO’s GSAT-11 satellite, to be conducted from the ISRO Satellite Centre (ISAC) at Bangalore.” GSAT-11 is aimed at providing multiple spot beam coverage in Ka and Ku bands over the Indian region and nearby islands. Its 12 gbps service is expected to be far more superior to older Indian communication satellites.

Technical checks

•The satellite and its foreign launch, estimated at Rs. 1,117 crore, was formally approved by the Union Cabinet in March 2016.

•Mathieu Weiss, space counsellor in the French embassy in Bengaluru and MD of the India liaison office of French space agency CNES (which is associated with the Ariane rocket design,) said, “These things happen in the space sector. We fully understand that the customer has to make thorough technical checks. The spacecraft being an exceptional satellite, one has to be super cautious in launching it. We will do everything to accommodate ISRO in a forthcoming launch.”

•Arianespace had matched and paired GSAT-11 to be flown along with Azerspace-2/Intelsat-38. While GSAT-11 will have to be tested, cleared in the city and flown back to Kourou at least a month before it is launched, its new launch date is not known yet.

πŸ“° Western Ghats reveal world’s smallest land fern

The Malvi’s adder’s-tongue fern is just one centimetre tall

•Indian researchers have discovered the world’s smallest land fern hiding in the Ahwa forests of the Western Ghats in Gujarat’s Dang district. According to a recent study in Scientific Reports, an international journal that publishes multidisciplinary research, the fingernail-sized fern belongs to a group known as the adder’s-tongue ferns, named after their resemblance to a snake’s tongue.

•The size of the new Malvi’s adder’s-tongue fern Ophioglossum malviae – just one centimetre – is probably the reason why it remained hidden all along, said researcher Mitesh Patel of the Department of Biosciences at Surat’s Veer Narmad South Gujarat University, who stumbled across the plant during a botanical expedition in 2016.

•According to Mr. Patel, he was lying on his stomach and looking for other small Ophioglossum ferns in the Ahwa forest division when he came across the distinct fern.

Complex features

•Taking it back to the lab, Mr. Patel and his colleagues studied its morphology in detail to find that it differed from similar ferns in not just size (the most similar adder’s-tongue fern is 10 cm tall) but other complex fern features too.

•A look at the plant’s minuscule seeds (called spores) under a powerful electron microscope revealed it had a unique thick outer layer which similar species lacked.

•The researchers also analysed the plant’s DNA and found it to vary enough from its relatives to call it a new species.

•Initial observations suggest that the ferns are seasonal and grow with the first monsoon rains, said Mr. Patel. “They last only for a few months and new plants are born through their spores next year,” he pointed out.

•The ferns are not very common even in the locality they are found in.

•In fact, the researchers uncovered only 12 of these plants in the Ahwa forest division, growing alongside mosses in grasslands near Jakhana village. Since locals use the grasslands as a burial ground, conserving the species is crucial, added Mr. Patel.

•“It is fascinating that the fern has been found from one of the drier tracts of the Ghats,” said T. V. Ramachandra, Senior Scientist, Energy & Wetlands Research Group at CES of Bengaluru’s Indian Institute of Science, who was not involved in the study.

•“This also highlights the need for more field surveys across the Ghats, before many such unexplored patches are destroyed,” the scientist said.

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