The HINDU Notes – 14th May 2018 - VISION

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Monday, May 14, 2018

The HINDU Notes – 14th May 2018

📰 Domestic Violence Act for divorced women too: Supreme Court

‘It extends to all man-woman relationships’

•The Domestic Violence Act — meant to punish men who abuse women in a relationship — extends to all man-woman relationships, and also protects divorced women from their former husbands, the Supreme Court has upheld.

•A three-judge Bench of Justices Ranjan Gogoi, R. Banumathi and Naveen Sinha confirmed a Rajasthan High Court ruling of 2013 that the term ‘domestic violence’ cannot be restrained to marital relations alone.

•The Supreme Court’s recent order, based on a question of law raised by advocate Dushyant Parashar, found no reason to differ with the High Court’s conclusion that ‘domestic relationship’ includes “consanguinity, marriage, a relationship in the nature of marriage, adoption or as family members living together as a joint family”.

Not confined

•The apex court did not intervene with the interpretation that ‘domestic relationship’ is not confined to the “relationship as husband and wife or a relationship in the nature of marriage, but it includes other relationship as well such as sisters, mother, etc.”.

•“Domestic relationship includes any relationship between two persons who either live at the present moment or have at any point of time in the past lived together in a shared household... Absence of subsisting domestic relationship in no manner prevents the court from granting certain reliefs specified under the Act,” the High Court’s reasoning was upheld by the Bench.

•The court held that domestic violence can continue even after divorce and the reach of the Act should not be shackled by confining only for the protection of women living in marriage. It illustrated how a divorcee husband could resort to violence by entering the workplace of his former wife to commit an act of violence, or even attempt to communicate with her, or threaten or cause violence to her relatives or dependants or any other person.

•It amounts to domestic violence if the former husband tried to dispossess the woman from a jointly-owned property or refuse to return her ‘stridhan’ or valuable security or other property. The Act brings all these acts of violence within its ambit.

📰 Collective assertion — On Justice Joseph’s elevation

The propriety of the Centre holding back names from the collegium’s list is in question

•It may no longer be possible for the Union government to delay Justice K.M. Joseph’s elevation to the Supreme Court. The five-member collegium has unanimously agreed, in principle, to reiterate its recommendation to appoint the Chief Justice of the Uttarakhand High Court as a judge of the Supreme Court. When reiterated unanimously, the Centre is bound to act on the collegium resolution, going by the law laid down by the Supreme Court in the Third Judges Case of 1998. The Centre, which denies that its objection had anything to do with Justice Joseph’s decision in 2016 to quash the imposition of President’s Rule in Uttarakhand, ought not to delay his appointment once the reiteration is formally made. However, it is puzzling that the collegium didn’t send its reiteration to the Centre immediately. It has decided that his name would be part of the next set of recommendations, which would include proposals to elevate the Chief Justices of some more high courts. One explanation for this could be that the collegium wants to address the concern the Centre has indirectly raised about the need for fair representation to all high courts. While objecting to Justice Joseph’s appointment on the ground that he was not senior enough, the Centre spoke about ‘excessive representation’ that a relatively ‘small’ high court (the Kerala High Court) may get after his appointment.

•While the unanimous reiteration may end the current controversy, there is a larger issue here: the propriety of the Centre holding back one or two names from a list of recommendations and clearing the rest. Justice Joseph’s name was sent along with that of senior advocate Indu Malhotra in January, but the Centre took three months to act on it. It cleared her name alone, while seeking reconsideration of Justice Joseph’s name. That it has a right to raise a particular judge’s case is beyond question, but selectively approving some names from a batch of recommendations can make a difference to the seniority of the judges concerned — especially when seniority is the sole consideration for appointment of the Chief Justice as well as membership of the collegium. In a judge-recommended system of appointments, one that is peculiar to India, differences over particular candidates cannot be avoided, but it ought to be possible for the two sides to minimise these differences and act expeditiously. The onus is more on the government of the day to ensure it is not seen as blocking the appointment of anyone the judges themselves have found fit and deserving. It does not augur well for the institution if the present consultative process, admittedly not an ideal one for a diverse democracy, is seen to be vitiated by executive intransigence.

📰 Hezbollah’s grip — On Lebanon's parliamentary election

Parliamentary results sharpen divides in Lebanon, amid rising tensions in West Asia

•Results of Lebanon’s May 6 parliamentary election point to the mounting frustration among voters with the government of Prime Minister Saad Hariri. In recent years, Lebanon has had a host of administrative and regional challenges while the government remained largely ineffective in tackling them. There were protests in Beirut and elsewhere over a breakdown of waste management; there is an acute power shortage; the economy is in a shambles; and the inward flight of Syrian refugees over the past seven years has put public infrastructure under further strain. Regional tensions are high as Hezbollah, Lebanon’s most powerful Shia movement that has been designated by the U.S. and Israel as a terrorist organisation, is involved in the Syrian civil war. In post-civil war Lebanon, the political class is largely divided into two blocs — the Iran-allied Shia bloc led by Hezbollah that has joined hands with Christian parties, and the Sunni bloc led by Mr. Hariri that has close ties with Saudi Arabia and the West. During the campaign, both sides whipped up this sectarian narrative — Mr. Hariri said Lebanon’s Arab identity was being threatened by Hezbollah’s Iran links, while the Hezbollah-allied parties targeted Saudi Arabia and the West besides attacking the government for its failures. In the event, Mr. Hariri’s Future Movement suffered a big setback. Its strength in the 128-member parliament shrank from 33 to 21. While Hezbollah will retain the 13 seats it had in the outgoing legislature, its allies have gained. President Michel Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement gained six more, while the number of independent candidates linked to Hezbollah doubled to eight, making the alliance the largest parliamentary bloc.

•Lebanon has a unique, confessional system in which the Prime Minister must be a Sunni, the President a Christian and the Parliament Speaker a Shia. Being the leader of the largest Sunni bloc, Mr. Hariri could retain his job as Prime Minister despite the electoral setback. But Hezbollah and its allies will have a greater say in government-formation. Hezbollah could also stall government measures that target its clout, a key demand from Mr. Hariri’s regional allies. Mr. Hariri is in a tight spot. The Saudis are not happy with his inability to rein in Hezbollah. Last year Mr. Hariri was summoned to Riyadh, where he announced his resignation. Though he withdrew the resignation later, his ties with his Saudi patrons appear to be far from mended. With the regional fault lines between Iran and its rivals set to sharpen further after the U.S. withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal and rising Tehran-Tel Aviv tensions, it is bound to reflect on Lebanese politics. Mr. Hariri has to find a balance between his domestic agenda and regional politics, provide basic services to the public, lift the economy and restore voters’ faith in him — a tall ask given Lebanon’s fractured polity and Mr. Hariri’s own record.

📰 Trust in the time of polls

The media should refrain from meaningless exit polls that only further erode the public’s trust

•Elections in India are often described as a carnival of democracy. They pave the way for the smooth transition of power from one party or a set of parties to another. They reflect the will of the people. However, over the last decade, the process has also become a source of disinformation, calculated lies and falsification of history. How did we reach here? What can we do to redeem the information space for credible, trustworthy and reliable news? What should we do when our leaders deliberately misrepresent facts?

Disinformation campaigns

•The just-concluded Assembly election in Karnataka exemplifies the problem. Some readers may point out the role of disinformation in the election of U.S. President Donald Trump and in the Brexit referendum. This may indeed be a global problem. But my concern as a Readers’ Editor of an Indian newspaper is about the Indian information ecology which is getting murkier by the day. The problem with disinformation campaigns is that they develop a trajectory of their own where even well-settled facts are reduced to mere conjecture.

•I am neither nostalgic nor romantic about the past. But this does not mean that I do not have a historical perspective, especially in the way the media handled sensitive information during elections until recently.

•The Indian media has never been a monolith. For every credible news outlet, there has been a corresponding sensationalist tabloid as a counterpoint. But the sensationalists were kept under control; there was some form of a social leash. There was an invisible firewall that separated these two universes. However, in the last five to six years, this firewall seems to have lost its power — disinformation is seeping into credible sections of the media because the source of disinformation happens to be our own leaders. This poses a difficult question about the nature of reporting. Faithful reporting means reporting what was said. But if statements themselves are wrong, do reporters write about them or not? Wouldn’t not reporting amount to censorship?

•For a legacy newspaper like The Hindu, the procedure is multilayered. Reporters file stories on important speeches without adding their own comments. Then they report the counterarguments. The opinion pages are used to debunk the lies. This demarcation between news and views helps in three ways: it documents statements as they are made; it records the statements of those who contest their truth; and the opinion pages provide not only the right information but also the context. The growth of the electronic media, with its single-minded focus on prime-time cacophony, seems to undermine the balance between reporting and opinion.

The methodology for exit polls

•The fact-check website, Alt News, has listed some of the most viral false stories in the run-up to the Karnataka elections. We may never know how many voters believed these stories, but the fact that political parties believe in engaging in disinformation campaigns for electoral gains is disturbing. While a section of the media is struggling to retain the public’s trust by walking the extra mile in ensuring due journalistic process, another section is actually undermining the public’s trust by indulging in weird exit polls.

•I am unable to see any robust methodology in these exit polls. What formula do they use to convert the vote share to the number of Assembly seats? How are regional variations in voters’ preferences factored into these numbers? The problem becomes more acute when the media tries to cover all the possibilities. How can one make sense of Times Now’s two exit polls with two different agencies? While one predicts a victory for the Congress, the other predicts a victory for the Bharatiya Janata Party! NDTV’s idea of working out a mean figure based on diverse exit polls defeats all rules of statistics.

•At a deeper level, we are witnessing a gradual erosion of values in public discourse. The corrosive power of this will undermine our democracy. It is not just the cordial relationship between the Army commanders, General K.S. Thimayya and Field Marshal K.M. Cariappa, and the civilian leadership that was distorted. It is contemporary history that has come under severe strain. If the media were to provide some relief from this assault on truth, then it should refrain from meaningless exit polls.

📰 Keep Jinnah’s portrait

The controversy in AMU is not about Jinnah. It is about the politics of a majoritarian government

•On May 9, Mohammed Ayoob wrote in The Hindu (“Remove Jinnah’s portrait”) that the controversy over Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s portrait at Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) is “partly contrived and partly genuine”. This is not true; in fact, it is fully contrived and fully deceptive. In the prevailing political scenario, with a right-wing party in power at the Centre and with parliamentary elections a year away, to think of the demand to take down the portrait and the subsequent events at the university in any other way apart from an attempt to intimidate an academic institution is political naivety at best, if not a deliberate oversight. That the presence of Jinnah’s portrait in AMU is being questioned is distressing, but more so as the person doing this is a Distinguished Professor Emeritus of International Relations.

•Let’s recollect the facts. Jinnah’s portrait lies in the Student Union Hall along with other portraits of leaders who were awarded life membership of the Students’ Union, including Mahatma Gandhi, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad and Jawaharlal Nehru. It has been hanging o n the wall since 1938, when Jinnah was awarded life membership of the Union, and thus holds historical significance.

•The Lok Sabha MP of Aligarh, Satish Gautam, who also happens to be a member of the University Court, which is the supreme governing body of the university, never once suggested removing the portrait during the many meetings he held in the university. So why has he suddenly chosen this particular time to write to the Vice-Chancellor about the portrait? And does it not seem rather odd that the day former Vice President Hamid Ansari was to deliver a lecture, “India has failed to establish a pluralistic society”, and be conferred life membership of the AMU Students’ Union, youth who allegedly owe allegiance to right-wing groups forcibly entered the campus and the event was cancelled? And the fact remains that the police did not file FIRs against the disrupters, but instead brutally lathi-charged the students.

•The writer is misplaced in his supposition that Jinnah’s portrait hangs in AMU because people hold the leader in high esteem for his supposed exposition of the Muslim cause in pre-independent India. This is not about an ideology, but about a democratic right. There is no doubt that Jinnah’s two-nation theory was hollow and had a debilitating impact on India’s Muslims. But whatever be Jinnah’s fault, can those in power, more than 70 years later, coerce an institution to do something like this? This is not about a portrait; it is about a majoritarian government intimidating an academic institution. If this is not fought against now, we may reach a point of no return. The struggle in AMU is about following the rule of law, maintaining a democratic tradition, and preserving history — even history that makes us uncomfortable — in its untainted form.

📰 A tightrope walk over China for Narendra Modi

Mr. Modi’s speech at the Shangri La dialogue to set the course for engagement in the Indo-Pacific.

•Prime Minister Narendra Modi is expected to make a “major” speech on India’s defence and security outlook at the Shangri-La dialogue in Singapore, which brings together Defence ministers, officials and military chiefs of the Asia-Pacific region each year. Mr. Modi will deliver the keynote address at the event, run by London-based think tank International Institute of Strategic Studies and funded and hosted by the Singapore government, on June 1.

•Mr. Modi’s speech as well as his travels east this summer are expected to reflect the tightrope balance India is walking between the U.S. and its allies, and China. Before his visit to Singapore June 1-2, he will travel to Indonesia from May 29-31, and later that month, will fly to China’s Qingdao city for the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) summit on June 9-10.

•His visit to Singapore and Jakarta is expected to focus more on the possibilities of security cooperation in the Indo-Pacific and the recently convened “Quadrilateral” with the U.S., Japan and Australia. U.S. Defence Secretary James Mattis is also expected to attend the conference.

Security summit

•Meanwhile in Qingdao Mr. Modi will rub shoulders with President Xi Jinping, Russian President Vladimir Putin, and leaders from Pakistan and Central Asian countries at the SCO security summit, which has been called the “Eastern NATO.”

•During a three-day visit to Indonesia too, the PM is expected to discuss security cooperation as well as information and expertise sharing on terrorism and countering violent extremism.

•PM Modi and President Joko Widodo will be meeting for the 4th time since 2014, when both leaders were elected to power in their countries. They first met on the sidelines of the East Asian summit in 2014, and subsequently Mr. Widodo has travelled to India twice, for a state visit in December 2016, and in January this year for the ASEAN-India summit.

•In preparation for PM Modi’s visit to Jakarta, the Indonesian National Security Adviser held detailed discussions on counter-terrorism cooperation, while External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj travelled to Indonesia for the joint commission meeting between the two countries. Indonesia is seen as a focal point in the Indo-Pacific, and has recently strengthened ties with Australia and Japan, and PM Modi and President Jokowi are expected to discuss China’s growing footprint in the Pacific region as well.

•As a result, experts expect the PM’s speech at the Shangri-La dialogue to set the course for India’s engagement in the region, with an emphasis on balancing ties with both the China-led coalition as well as the western forums seen to be countering China.

•“Most countries in the region will see Prime Minister Modi’s initiative to engage President Xi in Wuhan last month after standing up to China over the Doklam standoff last year as pragmatic, and will welcome India’s stand at this important platform,” said columnist Sanjaya Baru, formerly with IISS.

•Although India has sent defence ministers four times to the Shangri-La Dialogue, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is the first Indian Prime Minister to accept the invitation to speak at the event.

•Significantly his speech comes a year after India pulled out of the dialogue, upset after the deputy Defence Minister Subhash Bhamre was refused a speaking spot, while allowing the Pakistani Joint Chiefs of Staff to address a plenary session.

📰 An open letter to Finance Ministers

Political alignments should not come in the way of defending the fiscal rights of States 

•My fellow Finance Ministers in the States, I hope you will agree that the award of the Finance Commission is vital to State finances. Some of us who met initially at Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala, and later at Amaravati, Andhra Pradesh, are worried about the implications of the terms of reference (ToR) of the Finance Commission determined by the Union government. The issues related to inter se distribution of resources are what have drawn attention and made headlines. But the issues at stake are much larger.

•What the ToR challenge are the federal values enshrined in the Constitution and the modicum of fiscal autonomy State governments enjoy. I am writing this open letter just in case you have misunderstood that our concerns are limited to a change in the population base year, from 1971 to 2011, which would in fact affect not only the southern States in general but also other States where population growth has declined. We will certainly be making our legitimate claim not to be penalised for implementation of the national population policy. As has always been the case, in the memorandum we are to submit to the Finance Commission, we can agree to disagree as to what the best criteria for horizontal distribution are. But all of us in the Union of India have a common stake in the vertical distribution of resources between the Union government and the States as a whole.

•I am afraid that for political reasons many of us are failing to undertake this national duty to defend the rights of States on the one hand and the fiscal federalism of the country on the other. I want to raise before you, in public, some of the issues in the ToR which are going to adversely affect the financial resources and fiscal autonomy of States. If any of my fellow Finance Ministers has a different opinion, please join me in a public debate. I fervently hope that at least some of you will do so.

•First, is there any Finance Minister who will welcome a reduction in the share of taxes of the States from the 42% that was awarded by the 14th Finance Commission? This is precisely what the ToR propose to do. What else is the meaning of item 6(iv) in the ToR? Never before in India’s history has the Finance Commission been asked to review the award of its predecessor. A reminder of certain facts: 32% of the 13th Finance Commission and 42% of the 14th Finance Commission are not comparable. The first refers to non-plan revenue expenditure and the second to total revenue expenditure. Plan grants have been terminated. Further, the Government of India has increased our share of Centrally sponsored schemes so that the overall devolution as a share of GDP has remained more or less the same. The goods and services tax (GST) has further worsened vertical devolution due to the 50:50 sharing of taxes. You just read the ToR with respect to the GST where it is made out that the GST is going to adversely affect Central resources. The whole argument of an asymmetric GST burden is a joke.

•Second, the idea of federalism ensures that every citizen of India is provided comparable public services and taxation. It is for this purpose that the Constitution has provided for the provision of revenue deficit grant. No Finance Commission can review this. How is it then that item 5 in the ToR says, “The Commission may also examine whether revenue deficit grants be provided at all”? Don’t you agree that this is an infringement on the constitutional rights given to States?

Borrowing rights

•Third, the ToR want to curtail borrowing by States from the present 3% of Gross State Domestic Product (GSDP) to 1.7% if the Fiscal Responsibility and Budget Management Review Committee has its way with its recommendation.

•We have just started exercising borrowing rights as recommended by the 14th Finance Commission. If this is reversed, this will severely curtail capital expenditure of States. Further, there is a mischievous angle to the ToR which has asked the Finance Commission to explore the conditions to be imposed on borrowing by States. So far, there has been no condition on the 3% of GSDP fiscal deficit ceiling. We have to reject outright this incursion into the fiscal freedom of States.

•Fourth, the 14th Finance Commission directed its efforts to ensure that the discretionary element in the grant given by the Commission is totally eliminated. It is loud and clear from the ToR that the Union government is using the Finance Commission route to impose conditionalities through a plethora of conditional grants. Item 7 in the ToR talks about incentivising nine items and I am not against many of them. But the choice should be left to States. Equally unacceptable is the reference to populist schemes which are in the exclusive jurisdiction of elected State governments. Is this not undemocratic?

•My appeal to everyone is to join hands to uphold the Constitution and the right of States and block the sinister move to undermine the basic tenets of fiscal federalism in India. On our differences over the criteria of inter se distribution we shall agree to disagree and approach the Fifteenth Finance Commission individually in our memorandum. I appeal to those who are in agreement to join us in this effort to protect the constitutional rights of States. Let political alignments not stand in the way of defending the rights of States.

📰 Don’t get into tusk trouble, says SC

Court settles the law in 20-year-old case that ivory is 'government property'

•To whom do tusks of elephants belong? The Supreme Court has ruled that tusks are the property of the government. A three-judge Bench led by Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra filled a half-a-century vacuum in law, with its interpretation that “there cannot be an iota of doubt” about government having the right.

•The court was examining the Kerala Forests Act of 1961 and the Wildlife (Protection) Act of 1972 in a case dealing with the alleged unauthorised collection and storage of elephant tusks, possession of an unlicensed gun and other accessories by an individual in Wayanad two decades ago.

•The Supreme Court observed that there is a clear “declaration” in the 1972 Act on elephant tusks being government property.

A boost for the Greens

•Conservationists campaigning to curb ivory-trafficking and poaching got a boost with the order. India prohibits import and export of ivory. In Kerala, the Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (Vigilance), A. K. Dharni of the Forests and Wildlife Department said in response to the order: “Anything from the forest is government property.” The ruling, however, would not affect individuals who have ownership certificates for declared ivory. Even in the case of captive elephants, either the government keeps custody of tusks or owners are permitted to retain them if they give an undertaking that they would not be traded, he said.

•The Supreme Court said, “It is quite clear that ivory imported into India and an article made from such ivory in respect of which any offence against this Act (1961 Act) or any rule or order made thereunder has been committed, shall be deemed to be the property of the State Government.”

•Proceedings were initiated against the collector, Komarrikkal Elias, but he was acquitted. The case continued to simmer on an order passed by the Assistant Wild Life Warden to confiscate the tusks.

Not forest produce?

•Mr. Elias moved the District Judge, who ruled that tusks were not ‘forest produce’. The Kerala High Court agreed. An appeal in the apex court followed.

•‘Forest produce’ under the 1961 Act defines many things, including timber, charcoal, wood oil, gum, resin, natural varnish, flowers and fruits, but does not mention tusks.

•Mr. Dharni said all confiscated ivory — obtained through an animal’s death or an offence — is secured in strong rooms. Kerala asked the Centre for permission to burn these “liabilities,” but it was denied.

📰 Kerala’s development paradox

Social movements in Kerala built a strong civil society. Their absence now is hurting the State

•In April 2017, the Pinarayi Vijayan-led Left Democratic Front government celebrated the 60th anniversary of the State’s Legislative Assembly. The centrality of the first communist government in the celebration was very important, for it was the first democratically elected communist government anywhere, and it was this government which laid the foundation for modern Kerala. In its turbulent existence of nearly 28 months, that government tried to reshape Kerala’s social patterns, centering on land and society, among other things.

Gains of social movements

•The rise of the Communist Party of India to power in 1957 was the culmination of a number of social movements that caused a churning in society. Central to this was the formation of the Communist Party itself in Kerala in December 1939. The party took upon itself the task of liberating peasants and workers from their caste-based and feudalistic socio-economic thraldom. Under its leadership, social movements with land rights as their core demand became mass based and protracted. More importantly, the party strategically turned the struggles of tenants for land rights into struggles of tenants, the landless and the land-poor for land ownership rights.

•Broadly, the cumulative gains of the social movements and the communist regimes since 1957 were weakening of the caste and religious systems in interpersonal relations, though anti-communists still deployed them for political gains; emboldening the traditionally oppressed groups to take on their oppressors; strengthening fraternity across castes and communities; imparting a strong sense of social inclusiveness which was lacking till then; and deepening democracy and its institutions as nowhere else in India.

•The social dynamics of these movements for the next four decades, and the State’s people-centric bottom-up approach to planning and development initiated by the first ministry and which subsequent ministries had to follow as they came to be socially embedded in people’s psyche, resulted in what has been applauded as the “Kerala phenomenon”, making Kerala the first in many respects. Kerala is the first State where caste has lost much of its virulence, and those traditionally living at the margins of society have moved to its centre with dignity and self-confidence. It is the first to build State-wide grass-roots movements of peasants, workers and other oppressed sections. It is the first to experiment with coalition politics and stabilise it through coalition governance. It is the first to achieve universal literacy and high levels of life expectancy. More importantly, it is the first and probably the only State where civil society succeeded for a while in wresting for itself from an otherwise obtrusive State the largest space as an autonomous sphere for social mobilisation and political articulation. As the social gains by 1957 were considerable and continued for quite some time, and Kerala still ranks high in the Human Development Index, critics might ask if the State continues to retain these gains. The answer is yes and no.
Change in land use

•On the negative side, though the peasantry got their land rights after prolonged struggles, Kerala became “depeasantised” in a blink. As land markets emerged, over the years agricultural land changed hands in different ways for non-agricultural purposes. Now the relevance of land is mainly for industries, housing and investment, though by one account Kerala has more than one lakh unoccupied houses. The real estate mafia has changed Kerala’s social landscape, which was once the delight of anthropologists and tourists alike.

•Successive governments after the first Ministry did not ensure that the lands assigned through the reforms were used only for agricultural purposes and tenancy which was legally abolished did not crop up. They also did not look into the legality of excluding plantations from the reforms though they were government lands leased out on a pittance (and the lands involved in such leases are thousands of acres).

•As the Communist Party rose to power riding on massive social movements, the absence of such movements, particularly after the death of A.K. Gopalan, one of the most popular communist leaders, in March 1977 may eventually turn out to be communism’s death. If Kerala in the past could be proud of its civil society, which was built on social movements, the absence of such movements has already weakened civil society, and is weakening it further as the State is on a fast-track of colonisation of land for commerce, gated communities, and so on.

Reactionary politics is back

•Communism appealed to about one-third of the population when the first communist ministry was voted to power. This should mean that Kerala by and large remained anti-communist. Despite this, it is through the communist movements that Kerala’s civil society was built up. The social and political vacuum caused by the absence of these movements to which E.M.S. Namboodiripad and other leaders belonged has resulted in the resurgence of reactionary politics centring on caste and religion.

•Writer Paul Zacharia saw this regressive ambience as peculiar for a number of reasons. He wrote in 2007: “Society as a whole (in Kerala) was more secular, progressive, even rationalist, in the 1950s, 60s and 70s than it is today. Those were the heady days of the Left when a democratic revolution seemed about to bloom... But the 90s saw Kerala’s most startling somersault into a black hole of crude bhakti, superstition and blind ritual, cutting across all religions. Religion suddenly emerged as a money-machine.”

•Land for agricultural purposes is no longer part of the agenda of any State or the Centre. If in the past the usage “land is to rule” meant feudalistic control of land, now it is used in the context of corporate colonialism, of which religion is not only an integral part but also a pernicious purveyor of communal hate and a great polariser of communal formations for political purposes.

•The “Kerala phenomenon” has not made the State a land of milk and honey. While the State’s democratic polity is characterised by corruption and related afflictions of the larger Indian polity, the unwelcome side-effects of the “Kerala phenomenon” are seen in the State having the highest unemployment rate in the country, especially among the educated; having one of the highest suicide rates; and in the increasing neglect of the aged, presumably because of large-scale migration of the youth.

•Even if change is the only constant, it is the vitality of Kerala’s past which enriched its present. That vitality is post-colonial and in the long haul of social movements centring on land and society. Both these are not present now.

📰 ISRO making green propellant

Seeks to replace hydrazine fuel for future missions

•Scientists at the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) have reported progress in the development of an environment-friendly propellant to power satellites and spacecraft.

•The effort is to replace the conventional hydrazine rocket fuel, a highly toxic and carcinogenic chemical, with a greener propellant for future missions. Initial tests by a research team at the Liquid Propulsion Systems Centre (LPSC) here have shown promising results in the formulation and associated tests of a propellant blend based on hydroxylammonium nitrate (HAN).

•Due to its high performance characteristics, hydrazine has dominated the space industry as the choice of propellant for over six decades, despite its environment and health hazards and the challenges faced in its manufacturing, storage, ground handling and transportation.

•The LPSC team comprising Arpita Dash, B. Radhika and R. Narayan formulated the HAN-based monopropellant and carried out a variety of tests to investigate its characteristics, like thermal and catalytic decomposition and compatibility with different materials. A monopropellant is a chemical propulsion fuel which does not require a separate oxidizer. It is used extensively in satellite thrusters for orbital correction and orientation control.

•The in-house formulation consists of HAN, ammonium nitrate, methanol and water. While methanol was added to reduce combustion instability, the choice of AN was dictated by its capacity to control the burn rate and lower the freezing point of the propellant.

•In a paper presented at the national conference on Future Directions in Propulsion organised by the Aeronautical Society of India here, the researchers said the propellant formulation was tested for compatibility with four metal samples over a period of six months.

•The LPSC is planning further tests in flight configuration.

📰 China’s first home-built aircraft carrier begins sea trials

The 50,000-ton carrier will likely be formally commissioned sometime before 2020

•China’s first entirely home-built aircraft carrier began sea trials on Sunday in a sign of the growing sophistication of the country’s domestic arms industry.

•The still-unnamed ship left dock in the northern port of Dalian at 7-00 a.m. to “test the reliability and stability of its propulsion and other system,” the Defense Ministry said in a statement.

•The Liaoning provincial maritime safety bureau issued an order for shipping to avoid a section of ocean southeast of the city between Sunday and Friday.

•The 50,000-ton carrier will likely be formally commissioned sometime before 2020 following the completion of sea trials and the arrival of its full air complement.

•The new carrier is based on the former Soviet Union’s Kuznetsov class design, with a ski jump-style deck for taking off and a conventional oil-fueled steam turbine power plant.

•China’s first aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, arrived as a mostly empty hull from Ukraine and was commissioned in 2012 along with its flight wing of Chinese J-15 fighter jets.

•State media reports say China is also planning to build a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier capable of remaining at sea for long durations.

•China has the world’s largest navy in terms of numbers of ships, although it lags behind the U.S. in technology and combat capabilities.

•It has been deployed to assert China’s claim to virtually the entire South China Sea and is increasingly ranging farther into the Pacific and Indian oceans. China last year established its first overseas military base in the Horn of Africa nation of Djibouti, where rivals such as the U.S., Japan and several European nations also have a permanent presence.

📰 Govt., regulators mull ‘shell firm’ definition

‘Lack of proper definition impeding government action’

•As multiple agencies and regulators probe the suspected use of ‘only-on-paper’ firms for financial irregularities, the government is looking to put in place a proper definition for ‘shell companies’ so that investigations are not hampered and prosecution can withstand scrutiny in courts of law.

•A key issue has been lack of a proper and uniform definition for ‘shell companies’ — a term generally used for companies that are set up for financial manoeuvrings only or are kept dormant for some future use. These companies generally exist only on paper and may be used for nefarious activities, officials said.

Task force

•The Ministry of Corporate Affairs has received preliminary suggestions from a multi-agency task force comprising officials from the Enforcement Directorate, Financial Intelligence Unit, Directorate of Revenue Intelligence, capital markets regulator SEBI and the Income Tax Department, they added. Definitions under consideration include those from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, which has defined a shell company as being formally registered, incorporated or otherwise legally organised in an economy but which does not conduct any operations in that economy other than in a pass-through capacity.

•SEBI has suggested entities having no significant operational assets or business activity but acting in a pass-through capacity as conduits may be thus defined.

📰 Customer rights remain grey area in Insolvency & Bankruptcy code

Even a rule change, introduced in 2017, has not provided clarity on the issue

•The Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code (IBC), 2016 no doubt is a path-breaking initiative in the whole reform process.

•Not surprisingly, it has triggered huge debate and one of the key grey areas that had emerged in a recent cases pertained to rights of the customers in an insolvency process.

•The Supreme Court had reportedly indicated that it would settle the grey areas in the code to see what role homebuyers could play in liquidation proceedings, while hearing arguments in the Jaypee Infratech case.

•When the IBC 2016 was introduced, it classified company creditors into two categories — financial creditors (banks and financial intuitions) and operational creditors (suppliers and vendors). It did not address the position of other creditors or customers who could not fit into either of the two categories. The other creditors comprised segments like homebuyers, deposit holders and customers who had made advance payment for purchase, etc.

•The customer angle came into spotlight in the case of homebuyers of Jaypee Infratech, customers of telecom firm Aircel and Nathella Jewellery.

•An amendment was brought in to the corporate insolvency resolution process regulations in August 2017, whereby a new rule was introduced.

•Regulation 9A created a new residuary category of creditors, namely, other creditors (all creditors other than financial and operational). This enables other creditors to file claims against a firm under insolvency by filing Form F with the Resolution Professional (RP). Despite the other creditors’ rule being brought in, there is still uncertainty for customers who had paid advances to the company.

•“The key issue still remains whether advances paid by customers are treated similar to that of debt owed by the company to banks and other vendors in the normal course of business and the order of priority in which repayment will be made in the insolvency process,” said S. Dhanapal, senior partner, S. Dhanapal and Associates, a company secretaries firm.

•The recent cases of Aircel and Nathella have again brought into focus the question whether customers who had paid advances to these companies can file their claims in Form F (meant for other creditors) with the RP since their position as far as repayment is concerned still remains to be determined, he added.

•According to Monish Panda, founder, Monish Panda Associates, there is no definite rule on the treatment of customers under the IBC. “The rights and reliefs available to the customer depend upon the nature of relationship with the corporate debtor (company under insolvency process),’’ he said.

•In the case of Jaypee Infratech, though homebuyers do not fall under the definition of financial creditors, the Supreme Court intervened and directed that the dues owed to buyers should be paid off first. Based upon such intervention, the Insolvency Law Committee has recommended that homebuyers with an agreement with the developers should be treated as financial creditors.

•“A similar approach is being followed in the case of Amrapali [a realtor]. However, these exceptional cases cannot be said to lay down the general rule on treatment of deposits by customers,’’ he felt. According to Mr. Panda, it is not possible to lay down one general way of treating customers under the IBC considering the complexities of business models and the dynamics of day-to- day transactions and can only be determined on a scheme-to- scheme basis.

•Vishal Gandhi, founder, Gandhi and Associates, said that the law required to be changed slightly in cases where “a creditor is neither a financial nor an operational creditor, but yet has a substantial amount of money, exceeding a certain threshold, to be recovered.’’

•In situations like that, such a creditor/customer too should deemed to be a financial creditor and/or permitted to be part of the committee of creditors and have a vote, he said.

•According to A.K. Mylsamy & Associates LLP, customers/consumers in general do not know whether they could also join the list of affected parties in the insolvency resolution process as the IBC had not defined consumers in any of the categories.

Legal protection

•Efforts, no doubt, are on to provide legal protection to safeguard the interests of depositors. IBC is still emerging and in early days. The moot question, however, is: how do we classify customers of Aircel, Nathella and the like?

•Their individual exposure to these firms may be small, no doubt. But, collectively, they form a major chunk of money owed. Hopefully, the Supreme Court will step in to clarify this major grey area in the code, which is proving a pain point for customers of assorted kinds and where a quick solution needs to emerge.

📰 Track and trace: last date will be Nov. 15

System covers pharmaceutical exports

•The implementation date of the Track and Trace or barcoding system for export of drug formulations has been extended to November 15, according to the Commerce Ministry.

•In a recent notification, the Directorate General of Foreign Trade said the deadline for the implementation, of the system that aims to maintain “parent-child relationship in packaging levels and its uploading on central portal,” was being extended up to November 15. It would apply to drugs manufactured by both small scale and non-SSI units.

•The Pharmaceuticals Export Promotion Council of India (Pharmexcil) had highlighted the problems faced by its member-exporters with regard to its implementation to the government. It had sought for extension of time for uploading of data by the exporters on the DAVA (Drug Authentication and Verification Application) portal.

Export issues

•The non-compliance of stipulations — barcoding on secondary and tertiary packing as well as uploading of the data on the portal —had resulted in the exporters facing problems at Customs, the council had pointed out.

•The track and trace system, incorporating barcode technology as per GS1 global supply standards, applies for all drugs and pharmaceutical products exported from the country. The barcoding system had been mandated as a measure to address counterfeit and ineffective product recall challenge, which, the DGFT said, affects the entire healthcare supply chain from manufacturers to patients, wholesalers, distributors, exporters and healthcare providers.

📰 An inch forward, but miles to go

Policy helps but the oil sector still treads slippery turf, with consumption outpacing production and fuels staying out of GST

•Even though the recently concluded bids for hydrocarbon blocks under the new exploration policy had attracted healthy interest, there is still a lot to do before domestic oil and gas production is enough to actually reduce India’s dependence on imports, or before a gas trading hub can be established in the country, according to industry players and analysts.

•The Directorate General of Hydrocarbons (DGH) recently announced the completion of the first round of bidding under its new Open Acreage Licensing Policy (OALP), a part of the revamped Hyrdrocarbon Exploration and Licensing Policy (HELP) that was launched in March 2016. The DGH said that it had received 110 bids for the 55 blocks on offer, with the private sector also actively participating, an indication of the renewed interest in the sector.

‘Addressing concerns’

•“Overall, I think the government is very serious about addressing the concerns of the industry,” K. Ravichandran, senior vice president at ICRA said. “So, certainly we are moving in the right direction in terms of attracting investments [with policies such as HELP and OALP]. And now with oil prices going up, the sentiment can only improve. So, I see more investments happening, especially from the private sector.”

•However, Mr. Ravichandran also added that several of the blocks on offer were small and hence the production potential from them was unlikely to change the oil production or import scenario in the country.

•“Our demand growth is very buoyant,” Mr. Ravichandran said. “If you look at our petroleum product consumption, India is one of the fastest-growing markets in the world.

•Auto fuels are growing at 8-10%. In the big four — LPG, ATF, petrol and diesel — India is growing in the high single digits. Even if domestic production were to increase, we are talking about 3-5% at best in the next 3-5 years, so that won't make a difference to the overall import dependence of the country.”

•And, even with domestic private sector participation expected to increase, India is still not one of the more attractive markets for global giants such as ExxonMobil or Chevron, who would rather invest in West Asia or North Africa, he added.

•That said, there does seem to be interest from West Asian companies in investing in India’s refinery sector, with Abu Dhabi National Oil Company reportedly expressing interest in buying stake in the planned refinery-cum-petrochemical project in Ratnagiri, Maharashtra. This follows Saudi Aramco last month signing an agreement to take up a 50% stake in the project.

Rules implementation

•However, more than policies, the main problem in the Indian hyrdrocarbon sector has been the implementation of the rules. Laxity on this front has affected both the oil and gas sectors.

•A case in point regarding the enforcement of the rules is the fact that state-run gas company GAIL (India) has a monopoly over the marketing and transportation of natural gas, which the private sector said leads to discriminatory and unfair practices.

•Even the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas has asked the sector regulator, the Petroleum and Natural Gas Regulatory Board, to look into the matter and see how best to unbundle GAIL’s marketing and transport businesses.

•On GAIL’s side, its officers’ association has written to the Prime Minister saying that there was no discriminatory pricing and that the policy framework was such that such malpractices could not take place.

•“In principle, there is a set of rules to prevent discriminatory practices, there is the PNGRB that is meant to regulate the sector, but we realise that the PNGRB did not have a quorum for quite a long time,” Ajay Shah, Vice President of Shell Energy Asia told The Hindu. “It was only recently that Mr. [Dinesh] Saraf has come in [as chairman] and we have a body of people that has good industry knowledge and expertise. There was a real hiatus for a while there.”

•“One of the things we bump up against sometimes is access to infrastructure,” Mr. Shah added. “What we see in most parts of the world is that the transportation business [of oil marketing companies] is separated from all other things because it is a natural monopoly.

•So, in other countries you have a regulated, rule-based system that allows access without any discrimination to anyone who wants to transport products in that infrastructure.”

•“The issue is also about the enforcement of the rules,” Mr. Shah explained. “The rules are pretty good. How do you make sure that the situation is genuinely non-discriminatory? What you want to give the customer, to make the market-place more dynamic, is more choice. And by having non-discriminatory access to infrastructure, you give the customer more choice.”

Price effect

•Another big issue that is gripping the oil industry in India is the fact that global oil prices are at elevated levels, leaving oil marketing companies in a quandary about whether to pass on the increases to the customer or absorb the loss and offset it against higher inventory gains due to rising prices.

•From April 24 onwards, Indian oil marketing companies had decided not to pass the oil price increases onto the customers.

•The global price of oil has risen about $3 per barrel since then. “There will certainly be an impact on revenues in the first quarter,” Mr. Ravichandran said. “But companies will have flexibility to recoup that in the rest of the year. While they are free to fix their prices, even if international prices were to fall, they can retain their retail prices at a higher level. Also, inventory gains due to rising oil prices will also help them offset the losses. Net-net, I don't see a very big impact on the bottomlines of the oil marketing companies,” he added.

Gas hub

•On the natural gas side, the Minister of Petroleum and Natural Gas Dharmendra Pradhan has often mentioned that he is planning to soon turn India into a gas trading hub. However, private sector players and industry analysts have pointed out that there is a long way to go before this becomes a reality.

•“GST is another element of the level-playing field that's not there,” Mr. Shah said. “If, when you cross a State border, then you get imposed a VAT that is not recoverable on this side, then suddenly you have incurred a cost just because the customer is over there and not here [in the same State]. I don't know how you would implement a gas trading hub without bringing gas under GST. The exchange or hub price is this, but it's different if you are in a different State... That doesn't feel like the right answer.”

•Mr. Pradhan has repeatedly appealed to the GST Council to include petroleum products under the new indirect tax regime. However, no such decision has yet taken place.

•“It would be easier to bring gas under GST than oil because gas is a much smaller part of the economy and so it won't have that much of an effect,” a senior official in the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas told this newspaper on the condition of anonymity. “But oil will have a big effect because of the excise duty collections that are currently being made.”