The HINDU Notes – 23rd January 2019 - VISION

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Wednesday, January 23, 2019

The HINDU Notes – 23rd January 2019

📰 ILO urges universal labour guarantee

Warns of destructive repercussions, uncertainty without decisive actions

•As heads of State and business leaders gather in Davos for the World Economic Forum this week, the UN agency that sets international labour standards is asking them to commit to a universal labour guarantee, universal social protection from birth to old age, an international governance system for the gig economy, and a human-in-command approach to artificial intelligence.

•In a report on the ‘Future of Work’, released in Geneva on Tuesday to mark its centenary, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) warned that “without decisive action we will be sleepwalking into a world that widens inequality, increases uncertainty and reinforces exclusion, with destructive political, social and economic repercussions.”

•Around the world, 190 million people are unemployed, while 300 million workers live in extreme poverty, according to the ILO. Wage gaps are growing at a time of declining wage growth.

•Two-thirds of jobs in the developing world are susceptible to automation, and only 15% of households in emerging countries have Internet access. Implementing the Paris Climate Agenda could create 24 million new jobs, but it could still be brutal to the 6 million workers expected to lose their jobs in the transition to a greener economy.

•In such a situation, the ILO asked all countries to “place people at the centre of economic and social policy”, ensuring that final decisions are taken by human beings.

•It suggested that an international governance system be set up to police the gig economy, and ensure that ‘digital labour platforms’ such as Uber and Swiggy respect certain minimum rights and protections.

•To reduce inequalities, the ILO recommends that “the development of the rural economy, where the future of many the world’s workers lies, should become a priority”.

•Urging a universal labour guarantee to ensure a living wage, the ILO sought limits on working hours and work safety norms. In its report the labour organisation observes that “the future of work requires a strong and responsive social protection system based on the principles of solidarity and risk sharing, which supports people’s needs over the life cycle”. In order to cope with change, it suggests that countries commit to a universal entitlement to lifelong learning, which would help people reskill and upskill.

•The report is the result of a 15-month review by a 27-member commission co-chaired by the South African president Cyril Ramaphosa and the Swedish prime minister Stefan Löfven. Indians on the commission included Reema Nanavaty, who leads the Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA), and Alwyn Didar Singh, former Secretary General of the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) and a retired Secretary to the Government of India.

📰 China carries out overhaul of military

Report says the Army is downsizing but investing in technology; PLA chain of command changed

•China is on course to overhaul its military by pumping in technology and cutting down personnel, to enable its leaner armed forces to project power far beyond their borders.

•The Xinhua news agency reported that for the first time, the Army now absorbs less than half of the total personnel in the Chinese armed forces.

•Beijing is also modernising its nuclear deterrent, based on a triad of long range missiles, bombers that can deliver atomic weapons, and nuclear submarines. The size of China’s Type 094 nuclear submarines, which entered service in 2010, is expected to climb to eight by 2020.

•The Xinhua report signalled that the Navy, Air Force, rocket force and strategic support force, which handle areas such as cyber warfare, comprise more than half of China’s armed forces. Besides, the entire chain of command in the People’s Liberation Army has been changed to enable integrated warfare of all combat units, steered by a joint operational chief of staff.

•“The Army’s share of the total number of troops in the military has fallen below 50%; the number of active duty members in non-combat institutions has been reduced by nearly half, and the number of officers has decreased by 30%,” says the report.

‘Holistic reforms’

•The write-up points out that the military’s “holistic and revolutionary reforms” began in November 2013, when the Communist Party of China, in its 18th edition, held a plenary session of its Central Committee, a top decision making body.

•The report follows Chinese President Xi Jinping’s remarks earlier this month that Beijing wanted a peaceful unification with Taiwan on a one-country-two-systems basis. But Mr. Xi also warned that China reserved the right to use force. In 1997, Hong Kong peacefully integrated with mainland China under the one-country-two-systems formulation, allowing the metropolis to function as a self-governing unit.

•China’s military reforms became visible in early 2016 when President Xi, as head of the apex Central Military Commission (CMC) inaugurated the formation of five-theatre commands. The Eastern, Western, Northern, Southern and Central theatre commands have been tailored for joint combat under the supervision of the CMC. The Joint Staff Department of the CMC is the overall command center and the headquarters of the PLA.

•China’s intent to cut down it human resources had become visible, even earlier when President Xi announced in September 2015 that he intended to shed 300,000 troops from the PLA. Despite its long-term goal of military advancement, some analysts say China will have to consistently add new aircraft carriers to dominate the high seas far away from its shores.

•Last month, the state-run tabloid Global Times quoted Chinese military experts as saying the PLA Navy will have to operate at least five to six aircraft carriers in the near future, including the country’s first two nuclear-powered ones, in order to exercise a blue water footprint. China has one aircraft carrier, while another has begun sea trials. A WeChat article from Xinhua on November 25 announced that the construction of a third aircraft carrier had commenced.

📰 States put on high alert as swine flu cases spike across the country

States put on high alert as swine flu cases spike across the country
1694 cases and 49 deaths have been reported in first 2 weeks of January; situation alarming in Rajasthan where 200 people died in 13 months

•With 49 swine flu deaths and 1,694 cases reported in just one fortnight from January 1-13 as per data released by the Integrated Disease Surveillance Programme (IDSP), several States are on alert.

•Rajasthan alone has reported 31 deaths in this period with other instances being reported from Delhi, Gujarat, Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Prdaesh, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Telangana.

•While the Rajasthan health department has reported that the number of cases in the State has crossed 1,000 with more than 200 people having died in the past 13 months, the Union Health Ministry has said that there is no cause for panic and that the situation is being closely monitored.

Highly contagious

•H1N1 influenza (or swine flu) is a highly contagious acute respiratory disease of pigs caused by type A influenza virus that regularly causes outbreaks of influenza in pigs. Swine flu viruses do not normally infect humans. However, sporadic human infections with swine flu have occurred. Most commonly, these cases occur in people with direct exposure to pigs (e.g., children near pigs at a fair or workers in the swine industry). However, there have been cases of human-to-human spread of swine flu.

•“All State governments have been asked to create awareness about the spread, testing and prevention of swine flu and we have also asked them to ensure that there are enough beds and medicines to treat any cases that are being reported,” noted a senior Union Health Ministry official.

•The Rajasthan health department confirmed that 1,036 people had tested positive between January 1 and 17, 2019, with nine fatalities reported in one week from January 13-17. “On January 17, 65 people tested positive for the flu,” the official added.

•According to Union Health and Family Welfare Ministry’s IDSP, 14,992 people contracted swine flu in 2018., while 1,103 people died. In 2017, 38,811 people tested positive with 2,270 deaths.

•“Children younger than five years old and adults who are 65 years and above, patients with chronic pulmonary condition (including asthma), , neurological, neuromuscular or metabolic disorders (including diabetes), obese adults and pregnant women are in the high risk group,” said Dr. D.S. Chaddha, Fortis Hospital.

📰 India stares at water scarcity

Tackling drought must be the immediate priority for administrators across the country

•The coming elections to the Lok Sabha, crucial to the future of our democracy, our pluralism, our federalism, are only a few weeks away.

•But something else, something urgent, something is already upon us. And something that is going to coincide with the elections. A drought.

•The rains have failed us. Nothing new, one might say. True, except that the rains’ let down this time comes on top of an already low-rain and, in many places, no-rain ground situation. And the next nearest rains are six months away. The cruelly blue, cloudless skies over much of India, north, central, eastern and peninsular India, say it all. And there is no guarantee that June will see the onset of a normal monsoon.

What the sky says

•Does anyone care? Does the political class? The Prime Minister and Chief Ministers are not unaware of the situation. They cannot be. The India Meteorological Department (IMD) has given them enough data. But when droughts and elections intersect, it is extremely uncomfortable to leaders. It is inconvenient to dwell on the skies’ tidings. Which government would like to tell farmers that suffering lies at their threshold? Who would like to tell them that water will be scarcer than before, that aquifers will plummet, crops wither, livestock go thirsty? Which government would, just weeks before the elections, tell us that with reservoirs drying up taps will sputter to a stop and that we may well be looking at water-rationing? The truth is, none of them will say that. This is where, as Amartya Sen has told us time and again, the media comes in, and comes in redemptively. It is India’s great good luck that public awareness, nudged and prodded by public discussions on meteorological data and media reportage, has kept droughts from deepening into famines in our country.

•The IMD report on scant rains has received scant attention so far, with exceptions being provided by P. Sainath’s relentless warnings and observations of experts of the calibre and veracity of Ramchandra Sable, agro-meteorologist, and D.M. More, Secretary of the Second Maharashtra Irrigation Commission, reported in The Hindustan Times (January 6, 2019).

Rain deficit facts

•To turn to the facts. The actual deficit last monsoon was modest — barely 10%. But the post-monsoon rainfall (October to December, 2018) or PMR as it is called by meteorologists has registered a 44% deficit. This national average deficit conceals shortages in some regions where it is much higher. In Marathwada, according to the IMD, the deficit is 84%, in Vidarbha, 88%.

•Why should we worry, more than before, this time? For the reason that this low-rain and no-rain situation is going to aggravate the water crisis that we have brought upon ourselves without the ‘help’ of a dry sky. Years of policy-driven, corporate-driven water transfers from rural to urban, agriculture to industry, poor to rich and so on have made our country-side chronically water-scarce. Urban India does not realise this fast enough or well enough. It will, when there are power-outages and air-conditioners do not work! “By April-May,” Mr. Sainath said to me, “this drought could be tormenting millions in several States.” And that is when election-campaigning will be at its peak.

•The pre-election mood ‘yesterday’ was all about agrarian distress, farm-loan waivers. Will the pre-election mood ‘tomorrow’ be even thinking of, leave alone talking of, drought and what can be done to address it beyond loan-waivers?

•Though our major leaders deny it, Kaun Banega Pradhan Mantri — KBPM — is what occupies the high seat in their thinking today. They seem to be in aphasia if not amnesia about the massive waterlessness that has hit us already. If they see the parched ponds, the sharded earth, the leaf-shedding trees, panting crops, drooping livestock, they do not talk about it.

•That is how politics is. And yet that is not how politics should be and that is not how the rural Indian voter is going to allow politics to be. Not any more. And good for that voter that it be so. Anti-incumbency may take five years in electoral politics to mature into an ouster. It does not take more than one failed farm-season to turn to impatience and then to rage. No politician in office or aspiring to it today can ignore the drought. It is going to be the biggest and immediate test for the new governments in Karnataka, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh. Somewhere in her hurt ego, a ‘relieved’ Vasundhara Raje must be glad she is not going to have to fight the drought. Likewise, Shivraj Singh Chouhan and Raman Singh. Not the Bharatiya Janata Party, not the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), not Narendra Modi but the drought is going to be the real challenge to the ‘collective opposition’ as it seeks to and could well manage to, oust the present regime.

•Let there be no doubt that the Prime Minister of India 2019 will have to be India’s Drought Commissioner.

•And let her or him face the challenge four-square and render a national service.

Time and money are short

•There is a prequel to this.

•For the NDA, time is short, money is not. For the Opposition, time is short, money shorter. What is short for both, equally, is credibility. It is critically short. The voter, especially the rural voter, has no illusions. A government either helps it overcome its life-and-death problems or does not. The ‘Delhi Government’ will be tested in 2019 for its credibility on many issues, among which certainly l’affaire Rafale is now top-of-the-list, followed by the Reserve Bank of India and the Central Bureau of Investigation mess-ups. But the elections in 2019 will test its credibility by what it does and says it will do for water-starved, food-short, livelihood-broken, rural India’s agrarian distress. And in States where the NDA is not in power — and now the States in which it is not exceeds the number of States in which it is — the rural voter will vote against whoever is in office unless the ‘government party’ makes drought relief, water-use, food security and massive earth-related programmes its absolute priority. In other words, unless it makes agrarian distress, now aggravated by the drought, its priority.

•The failure of rains this time is so serious that ‘drought’ now means not just a farm crisis but a national crisis that will affect towns and cities no less than villages. ‘Agrarian crisis’ appears to urban India as something ‘out there’. No longer true. It is only a matter of time when the ‘taken-for-granted’ piped water supply will falter and when water cans will cost even more than they do, today.

•Whoever becomes Prime Minister will do well to appoint a commission like the Farmers’ Commission, which Dr. M.S. Swaminathan headed, to advise him or her on how water scarce India, all of India, needs to face drought. And give that Commission just one month to complete its study, make its recommendations not just to government but to all Indians, to us, who have become so used to water-access imbalance, water-use lopsidedness, water prodigality in the midst of water poverty that we just do not care. And this time, not advisories or appeals but penalties will be needed.

•Addressing the deepening drought, agrarian distress and water-management are critical not just for our governments to survive but for us to survive our governments.

📰 Buried in the sands

The new CRZ notification of 2018 now reads as a rejection of science and the anticipated impacts from climate change

•In late December, the government approved the Draft Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) Notification, 2018, which had been earlier circulated by the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC). The CRZ consists of designated areas along the coast that are regulated by the government. The government introduced the new CRZ 2018 notification as a promise of a ‘better life’ for coastal communities that would add value to the country’s economy. Various recommendations to the draft from research think tanks and coastal community groups during the year were largely ignored and consultation appears to have been limited to select government bodies and departments.

History and changes

•CRZ regulations were first introduced in 1991 and subsequently revised in 2011. A coastal hazard line was established taking into account natural disasters including the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. While the 2011 notification recognised that there were areas of high erosion and vulnerability along the coast, few attempts were made to develop this hazard line scientifically or transparently across the country to regulate development. One amendment, in July 2018, removed the hazard line from the main regulation without consulting the public. In the new 2018 notification, as well, all reference to a hazard line has been removed and is replaced with a fixed setback line.

•Some areas along the coast, for example, experience very high storm surges, but will not get the protection they deserve. Formerly (in the 2011 version), the CRZ extended up to a minimum of 500 m and up to the area of the ‘hazard line’ if it was found to be beyond 500 m. By removing the hazard line altogether, the new notification maintains a uniform CRZ of 500 m from the high tide line. Except for the most ecologically sensitive areas (CRZ-I) and water areas (CRZ-IV), for which any development clearance requires MoEFCC approval, State governments will be responsible for regulating urban and rural coastal areas (CRZ-II and III).

•The CRZ for land adjoining creeks and backwaters is reduced from 100 to 50 m. CRZ 2018 relaxes important restrictions and permits construction in urban CRZ zones and densely populated rural coastal areas. Rural areas have been bifurcated, with greater allowances, ironically, for more populated areas. The greatest number of relaxations has been accorded to hotels, resorts and the tourism sector.

Boost to business

•Big hotels, restaurants, houses, coastal highways and small and large port facilities can now be built closer to the shoreline. Increased coastal tourism translates into further destruction of lagoons, marshland and other coastal ecosystems and their services. In fact, a limited study of the Tamil Nadu coastal districts from 2009 found that lakhs of crores of public investment, ecosystems and land are at risk from a one metre rise in average sea levels.

•The cyclones Ockhi and Vardah are fresh in people’s memories and so is the experience of loss of life and property. These frequent weather-related coastal vulnerabilities are, however, omitted in the CRZ 2018, which moved the concept of vulnerability and the hazard line from being at the heart of the regulatory mechanism to an optional appendage in the law applicable for a vaguely worded section on ‘disaster management’. The document trims the list of restricted activities in the ecologically sensitive CRZ-I areas and erases baselines. These include original baselines of what constituted this coastal zone (where it begins and ends, based on high water marks), what makes for a violation and further, what action should be taken for violations thus far and in future. Meanwhile, shorelines are already eroding due to sand mining controlled by mafias and building of seawalls along the coast.

At our peril

•At the recent international climate meeting at Katowice (COP24), when the U.S., Saudi Arabia and Russia refused to “accept” the special 1.5 degrees report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), India and other developing countries rightly protested that these countries were placing the world at risk. That report called for the world to prepare for severe impacts from climate change if average global temperature was to rise above 1.5º Celsius. The effects from rising seas are already visible and will worsen as temperature rises. Countries need to prepare for an increase in the frequency and intensity of very severe storms and accompanying effects on their coasts. An earlier 2018 study published in Nature Climate Change deduced that, among all countries of the world, India would experience the worst social and economic impacts from climate change.

•The CRZ notification from the Cabinet, however, now reads as a rejection of the IPCC’s science and anticipated impacts from climate change, including the 1.5º Celsius report. It is not clear whose interests are being heard in this CRZ notification. This environmental legislation has seen repeated fiddling with its provisions (the 1991 version saw about 25 amendments) and regular overhauls (the 2018 version makes for three fresh re-introductions of this law). Little of this activity from the MoEFCC has been towards improving or implementing the law, but rather to reduce regulatory oversight.

•The regulation now moves into another era, while existing deadlines to identify violations and phase out sewage and waste disposal and make wholesome management plans lapse. The legal mechanisms and innovations that entered the CRZ lexicon in the wake of the 2004 tsunami and coastal vulnerabilities to climate change have been deleted from the CRZ 2018. In one fell swoop, about two decades of deliberation and action to secure the coasts for the nation’s citizens has been erased. With eyes wide open, the country is walking into disaster for its coast and the tens of millions who live on it.

📰 Centre’s debt-to-GDP falls, States’ rises

While Centre’s total debt as percentage of GDP fell to 46.5% in 2017-18, States’ debt rose to 24%

•While the Centre is moving in the right direction in terms of meeting the N.K. Singh Committee recommendations on public debt, the States are moving in the opposite direction, data released by the government show.

•According to the Status Paper on Government Debt for 2017-18, the Centre’s total debt as a percentage of GDP reduced to 46.5% in 2017-18 from 47.5% as of March 31, 2014. The total debt of the States, however, has been rising over this period, to 24% in 2017-18, and is estimated to be 24.3% in 2018-19.

•In absolute terms, the Centre’s total debt increased from ₹56,69,429 crore at the end of March 2014 to ₹82,35,178 crore in 2017-18, representing a 45% increase. The total debt of the States increased from ₹24,71,270 crore to ₹40,22,090 crore over the same period, an increase of almost 63%.

•The N.K. Singh-headed FRBM (Fiscal Responsibility and Budget Management) Review Committee report had recommended the ratio to be 40% for the Centre and 20% for the States, respectively, by 2023. It said that the 60% consolidated Central and State debt limit was consistent with international best practices, and was an essential parameter to attract a better rating from the credit ratings agencies.

•“The Central debt has been within control because the government has been trying to stick by-and-large to the fiscal deficit parameters,” Ranen Banerjee, leader, PwC India, said. “The increase in the debt stock at the State level is worrying because they don’t have the wherewithal to service the debt if it goes beyond a certain point. They could then start getting into a debt trap situation.”

UDAY bonds

•“Outstanding liabilities of States have increased sharply during 2015-16 and 2016-17, following the issuance of UDAY bonds in these two years, which was reflected in an increase in liability-GDP ratio from 21.7% at end-March 2015 to 23.4% at end-March 2016 and further to 23.8% at end-March 2017,” the status report said.

•“The total outstanding liabilities as a percentage of GDP stood at 24% as at end-March 2018 and is expected to move upward to 24.3% at end-March 2019.” This, combined with the fact that ratings agencies have predicted that the combined fiscal deficit of the States to be 3.2% of GDP in financial year 2020 (higher than the prescribed 3%), and it begins to look increasingly unlikely that the States will meet their 20% debt-GDP ratio target by 2023. The report, however, says that the States do have some fiscal space to reduce their borrowing in the coming years due to the large cash surpluses they hold.

•“State governments as a group have exhibited a tendency to hold large cash surpluses/investments in Cash Balance Investment Account on a consistent basis while at the same time resorting to market borrowings to finance their GFD (Gross Fiscal Deficit),” the report said.

•“This indicates scope for reducing the quantum of market borrowings by State governments in case they bring down their cash surpluses (parked as investment in treasury bills of the Central government),” the report added.