The HINDU Notes – 14th February 2019 - VISION

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Thursday, February 14, 2019

The HINDU Notes – 14th February 2019

πŸ“° Citizenship, triple talaq Bills lapse

Bid to push one Bill through RS fails

•The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2019, that had set off a series of violent protests across the northeastern States, lapsed on Wednesday as the government failed to push it through Rajya Sabha despite a last- ditch effort on Tuesday.

•Along with the Citizenship Bill, the triple talaq Bill that criminalises instant divorce in a Muslim marriage has also lapsed.

•There have been widespread protests against the Citizenship Bill that proposed to grant citizenship to six religious minorities — Hindus, Jains, Sikhs, Parsis, Christians and Buddhists — from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh, who came to India before December 31, 2014. The Bill was seen as violating the terms of the 1985 Assam Accord that had set March 24, 1971 as the cut-off for granting citizenship.

Black flag protest

•On Sunday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi faced black flags and nude protests during his trip to Guwahati. Mr. Modi has consistently reiterated the BJP’s commitment towards the Bill. At a rally in Jammu recently, Mr. Modi said it was essential to “save children of Ma Bharati” under attack in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh. He reiterated the concept of Akhand Bharat, a core principle of the RSS and its affiliated organisations.

•In a bid to have a smooth Budget session, the government had, at the very commencement, told the Opposition that controversial legislations including the Citizenship Bill and the triple talaq Bill, will not be moved.

•Despite the assurance, the Citizenship Bill was listed for Tuesday, the penultimate day of the session. The government claimed that three hours were allotted for debate on the legislation at a meeting in August 2016. But the contentious Bill could not be taken up because of disruptions.

πŸ“° Rajasthan clears 5% quota for Gujjars

•The Rajasthan Assembly on Wednesday unanimously passed a Bill giving 5% reservation in government jobs and education to Gujjars and four other nomadic communities.

•Leader of the Gujjar stir Kirori Singh Bainsla and other protesters occupying the railway tracks on the Delhi-Mumbai route near the Malarna station in Sawai Madhopur district said they would study the Bill and discuss it with the legal experts before calling off the agitation.

Sixth day

•The stir entered the sixth day on Wednesday, with widespread disruption in rail and road traffic continuing.

πŸ“° Load off their backs

Meghalaya government puts cap on the weight of students’ school bags

•In a major relief to students, the Meghalaya government has put a cap on the weight of schoolbags for all classes and set restrictions on homework for Classes I and II.

•According to the State education department, the official order issued to the school authorities is in tune with the directives of the Union Human Resources Development Ministry.

•“We have issued instructions via a notification, setting limits on the weight of school bags. This is in line with the guidelines of the Union Human Resources Development Ministry, keeping in mind that the weights the children carry affect their health,” Education Principal Secretary D P Wahlang told PTI.

•The department has also asked the heads of institutions to ensure that timetables are designed in a way that students do not have to carry too many books or notebooks to school.

•“The weight of school bags for classes 1 and 2 has been capped at 1.5 kg, while bags for those studying in classes 3 to 5 should not exceed 3 kg,” the notification said. For students of Classes VI to VII, the maximum weight should be four kg, it said. Similarly, the weight of school bags for Classes VIII and IX has been capped at four-and-a-half kg and the maximum weight of bags for Class X students has been limited to five kg.

•“Schools should make sure that the students are asked to carry only those textbooks that have been mentioned in their time table,” the order said.

•The education department has also barred schools from assigning homework to students of Classes I and II, except in subjects recommended by CBSE, ICSE or MBOSE (Meghalaya Board of School Education).

•“Students should not be forced to bring additional books and materials,” the department has said, adding that children should be encouraged to participate in co-curricular activities for their holistic development.

πŸ“° ‘Only 84% rural households have electricity in four States’

Study results are in variance with government data

•Only 84% of rural households have electricity connection in the four States of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Odisha and Rajasthan, a comprehensive private sector survey of 10,000 households has found.

•This is in contrast to the government’s Saubhagya Scheme data, which shows that 100% household electrification has been achieved in U.P., Bihar and Odisha; and 99.9% in Rajasthan.

•According to the data in the survey report by SmartPower, the 84% figure for households with electricity connections could actually be even lower. The report said that 90% of the households surveyed had an electric connection or “electric pole within 50 m distance”. Within this figure, 84% of the households were the ones with an actual electricity connection. The report also found that only 75% of all households used electricity from the grid, suggesting that there were several households that relied on off-grid sources of electricity despite having a connection.

•“Despite the increasing footprint of grid-electricity, this study finds that several non-grid sources are in use; these include, primarily, solar home systems, followed by rechargeable batteries, mini-grid electricity, and diesel generators,” the report said. “Overall 16% of households use non-grid-electricity sources, half of which also have grid connections.”

•“This is an important finding, as there is an assumption that non-grid sources are popular only among un-electrified households,” the report added.

•This is probably best explained by the finding that 80% of the households with electricity infrastructure within 50 m said they did not make use of an electricity connection because they could not afford one. Other reasons for choosing off-grid sources included unreliable supply of electricity, inadequate supply of electricity and lack of residence proof.

πŸ“° Rajya Sabha clears law removing leprosy as ground for divorce

•Parliament on Wednesday passed a Bill removing leprosy as a ground for divorce under five personal laws, including the Hindu Marriage Act.

•The Rajya Sabha on the last day of the Budget session passed the Bill without debate after consensus on the issue.

•The Personal Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2018 sought to remove leprosy as a ground for divorce in five personal laws — Hindu Marriage Act, Dissolution of Muslim Marriages Act, Divorce Act (for Christians), Special Marriage Act and the Hindu Adoptions and Maintenance Act.

•However, consensus eluded on the Consumer Protection Bill which the government sought to push on Wednesday.

•The Upper House first passed The Personal Laws amendment Bill 2018 by voice vote and then Chairman M. Venkaiah Naidu took up the Consumer Protection Bill but the same was met by vociferous protest from Trinamool Congress and Left parties, forcing a 10-minute adjournment of proceedings.

•When the House reassembled, Mr. Naidu said there was a communication gap on the Consumer Protection Bill and the same would not be taken up.

•The Consumer Protection Bill 2018would replace the Consumer Protection Act, 1986.

πŸ“° Dealing with the thought police

It is vitally important that the courts remain free of the discourse on ‘urban Naxals’ and ‘anti-nationals’

•On February 5, an Additional Sessions Judge in Punjab sentenced three young men to life in prison. Arwinder Singh, Surjit Singh and Ranjit Singh were convicted under a little-known provision of the Indian Penal Code concerning “waging war against the government of India”.

•In what heinous manner had the three men waged war against the government, which justified a sentence of life imprisonment? A perusal of the 64-page-long judgment reveals the following. They did not commit any physical violence, and nobody was harmed in any way. They were not caught in possession of weapons. They were not overheard planning any specific terrorist attack, nor were they on their way to commit one when they were apprehended. What did happen was that the men were caught with literature supporting the cause of Khalistan, a few posters that did the same, and some Facebook posts (whose content we do not know) on the subject.

•With this being the sum total of what passed for “evidence” in the case, it is clear that the verdict of the Additional Sessions Judge is unsustainable, and will be reversed. It is important, however, for the higher courts to recognise not only that the judgment is fatally flawed but also that it represents a dangerous moment for the judiciary: this is not the first occasion in recent times when a court has abandoned constitutional values in favour of a crude nationalistic rhetoric that belongs more to the demagogue’s pulpit rather than to the courtroom. And in that context, the judgment of the Additional Sessions Judge marks the beginnings of a trend that, if left unchecked, can swiftly erode our most cherished liberties.

Of speech and association

•The first —and most glaring — aspect of the judgment is its apparent disregard for the Constitution. At the heart of the Constitution’s fundamental rights chapter is Article 19, which guarantees, among other things, the freedom of speech and association. Of course, the state may impose “reasonable restrictions” upon these fundamental freedoms, in the interests of, for example, the security of the state.

•In a series of careful decisions over five decades, the Supreme Court has articulated the precise circumstances under which a restriction on the freedom of speech or association is “reasonable”. After the famous 2015 judgment in Shreya Singhal, in which Section 66A of the Information Technology Act was struck down, the position of law has been clear: speech can be punished only if it amounts to direct incitement to violence. Everything short of that, including “advocacy” of any kind, is protected by the Constitution.

•Not only is this consistent with the Supreme Court’s jurisprudence, it also harks back to a venerable Indian tradition of civil liberties. In the early 1920s, Mahatma Gandhi famously wrote that the “freedom of association is truly respected when assemblies of people can discuss even revolutionary projects”, and noted that the state’s right to intervene was limited to situations involving actual outbreak of revolution. The logic is simple: in a pluralist democracy, no one set of ideas can set itself up as the universal truth, and enforce its position through coercion. Consequently, as the American judge, Louis Brandeis, memorably observed, “If there be time to expose through discussion the falsehood and fallacies... the remedy to be applied is more speech, not enforced silence.” The Indian Supreme Court’s “incitement to violence” standard responds to this basic insight about civil liberties in a democracy.

•Nor is the test diluted just because the issue at stake may involve national security. In three judgments in 2011 — Raneef, Indra Das, and Arup Bhuyan — the Supreme Court made it very clear that the incitement test applied squarely to the provisions of the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act (TADA) and the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), India’s signature anti-terrorist legislation. In particular, the court cautioned that vaguely-worded provisions of these statutes would have to be read narrowly and precisely, and in accordance with the Constitution. So, for example, “membership” of a banned organisation — a punishable offence both under the TADA and the UAPA — was to be understood as being limited to “active membership”, i.e. incitement to violence. In particular, in Raneef, mere possession of revolutionary literature was categorically held to be insufficient to sustain a conviction, something that was blithely ignored by the Additional Sessions Judge in his judgment of February 5.

•In fact, not only did the Additional Sessions Judge ignore Gandhi, Supreme Court precedent on free speech and association and Supreme Court precedent on the interpretation of anti-terror legislation, he also — staggeringly — managed to ignore categorical precedent on the issue of pro-Khalistani speech! In Balwant Singh v. State of Punjab (1995), the Supreme Court had set aside the sedition convictions of two men who had raised pro-Khalistan slogans outside a cinema hall in Punjab, in the immediate aftermath of Indira Gandhi’s assassination. Even a situation like that was deemed insufficient to meet the high “incitement” threshold, while here the Additional Sessions Judge managed to hold that Facebook posts amounted to “direct incitement”.

Judicial objectivity

•There is, however, a further point to consider. In the last few years, a discourse has arisen that seeks to paint a set of oppositional ideas as beyond the pale, and those who hold those ideas as being unworthy of civilised treatment. Two phrases have come to dominate this discourse: “urban Naxal” and “anti-national”.

•Neither “urban Naxal” nor “anti-national” is a term defined by law. These terms have nothing to do with incitement to violence or creating public disorder. But they are also boundlessly manipulable, and exploited by their users to vilify and demonise political opponents without ever making clear what exactly is the crime (if any) that has been committed. Their very elasticity makes them ideal weapons for shoot-and-scoot attacks, and for coded dog-whistles.

•It is one thing for these terms to be thrown around in a political dogfight. It is quite another when they begin to percolate into law-enforcement and legal discourse, where precision is crucial, because personal liberty is at stake. Indeed, it is vitally important that the courts, above all, remain free of this discourse, because it is the courts that are tasked with protecting the rights of precisely those individuals who are demonised and vilified by the ruling majority of the day.

•While the Additional Sessions Judge does not use either of these specific terms, his entire judgment, however, is of a piece with this governing philosophy, where conjecture, association, and innuendo take the place of rational analysis. In that context, his judgment is reminiscent of the Delhi High Court judgment that granted bail to Kanhaiya Kumar, while embarking upon a bizarre disquisition involving cancer and gangrene, and the police press-conference in the ongoing Bhima Koregaon case which did use the “urban Naxal” term.

Case for care

•There is little doubt that the life sentence of Arwinder Singh, Surjit Singh and Ranjit Singh cannot stand the test of law. However, when an appeals court considers the issue, it should take the opportunity to reiterate a hoary truth: a democracy does not jail people simply for reading books, painting posters, or posting on Facebook. And in adjudicating cases involving the life and personal liberties of citizens, courts must take special care to ensure that the temptation to get carried away and forget what the Constitution commands is held firmly in check. That reminder may come when the three men have already lost some years of their lives to prison — but it could not come soon enough.

πŸ“° Every drop matters

The regulatory framework must be reformed to ensure access to safe and sufficient blood

•A ready supply of safe blood in sufficient quantities is a vital component of modern health care. In 2015-16, India was 1.1 million units short of its blood requirements. Here too, there were considerable regional disparities, with 81 districts in the country not having a blood bank at all. In 2016, a hospital in Chhattisgarh turned away a woman in dire need of blood as it was unavailable. She died on the way to the nearest blood bank which was several hours away. Yet, in April 2017, it was reported that blood banks in India had in the last five years discarded a total of 2.8 million units of expired, unused blood (more than 6 lakh litres).

Vigil after collection

•To prevent transfusion-transmitted infections (TTIs), collected blood needs to be safe as well. Due to practical constraints, tests are only conducted post-collection. Thus blood donor selection relies on donors filling in health questionnaires truthfully. The collected blood is tested for certain TTIs such as HIV and if the blood tests positive, it has to be discarded. However, these tests are not foolproof as there is a window period after a person first becomes infected with a virus during which the infection may not be detectable. This makes it crucial to minimise the risk in the first instance of collection. Collecting healthy blood will also result in less blood being discarded later.

•Blood that is donated voluntarily and without remuneration is considered to be the safest. Unfortunately, professional donors (who accept remuneration) and replacement donation (which is not voluntary) are both common in India. In the case of professional donors there is a higher chance of there being TTIs in their blood, as these donors may not provide full disclosure.

•In the case of replacement donation, relatives of patients in need of blood are asked by hospitals to arrange for the same expeditiously. This blood is not used for the patient herself, but is intended as a replacement for the blood that is actually used. In this way, hospitals shift the burden of maintaining their blood bank stock to the patient and her family. Here again, there could be a higher chance of TTI’s because replacement donors, being under pressure, may be less truthful about diseases.

•The regulatory framework which governs the blood transfusion infrastructure in India is scattered across different laws, policies, guidelines and authorities. Blood is considered to be a ‘drug’ under the Drugs & Cosmetics Act, 1940. Therefore, just like any other manufacturer or storer of drugs, blood banks need to be licensed by the Drug Controller-General of India (DCGI). For this, they need to meet a series of requirements with respect to the collection, storage, processing and distribution of blood, as specified under the Drugs & Cosmetics Rules, 1945. Blood banks are inspected by drug inspectors who are expected to check not only the premises and equipment but also various quality and medical aspects such as processing and testing facilities. Their findings lead to the issuance, suspension or cancellation of a licence.

•In 1996, the Supreme Court directed the government to establish the National Blood Transfusion Council (NBTC) and State Blood Transfusion Councils (SBTCs). The NBTC functions as the apex policy-formulating and expert body for blood transfusion services and includes representation from blood banks. However, it lacks statutory backing (unlike the DCGI), and as such, the standards and requirements recommended by it are only in the form of guidelines.

•This gives rise to a peculiar situation — the expert blood transfusion body can only issue non-binding guidelines, whereas the general pharmaceutical regulator has the power to license blood banks. This regulatory dissonance exacerbates the serious issues on the ground and results in poor coordination and monitoring.

Towards a solution

•The present scenario under the DCGI is far from desirable, especially given how regulating blood involves distinct considerations when compared to most commercial drugs. It is especially incongruous given the existence of expert bodies such as the NBTC and National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO), which are more naturally suited for this role. The DCGI does not include any experts in the field of blood transfusion, and drug inspectors do not undergo any special training for inspecting blood banks.

•In order to ensure the involvement of technical experts who can complement the DCGI, the rules should be amended to involve the NBTC and SBTCs in the licensing process. Given the wide range of responsibilities the DCGI has to handle, its licensing role with respect to blood banks can even be delegated to the NBTC under the rules. This would go a long way towards ensuring that the regulatory scheme is up to date and accommodates medical and technological advances.

•Despite a 2017 amendment to the rules which enabled transfer of blood between blood banks, the overall system is still not sufficiently integrated. A collaborative regulator can, more effectively, take the lead in facilitating coordination, planning and management. This may reduce the regional disparities in blood supply as well as ensure that the quality of blood does not vary between private, corporate, international, hospital-based, non-governmental organisations and government blood banks.

•The aim of the National Blood Policy formulated by the government back in 2002 was to “ensure easily accessible and adequate supply of safe and quality blood”. To achieve this goal, India should look to reforming its regulatory approach at the earliest.

πŸ“° Well oiled — on Saudi Crown Prince's India visit

It is easy to see why the Saudi Crown Prince has chosen to include India in his Asia tour

•Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman visits India next week at a time when both countries are seeking to deepen bilateral cooperation. For MBS, as he is widely known, the visit to India, Pakistan, China, Malaysia and Indonesia is an opportunity to re-assert Saudi Arabia’s role as a major foreign policy player in Asia amid growing criticism over the Yemen war and the brutal assassination of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul. For the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the visit, with general elections approaching, is an opportunity to cap its pursuit of stronger ties with West Asian nations on a high note. High-level visits between India and Saudi Arabia have become the new normal since King Abdullah came to India in 2006, the first Saudi monarch to do so in five decades. Four years later, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh travelled to Riyadh. Mr. Modi visited Riyadh in 2016; last year, he met MBS in Argentina on the sidelines of the G-20 summit at a time when the Crown Prince had already come under sharp criticism in many Western countries. A number of factors have influenced the turnaround in ties between the two countries, which had been underwhelming during the Cold War. When India’s economy started growing at a faster clip post-liberalisation, its dependence on energy-rich nations grew. And Saudi Arabia was a stable, trusted supplier of oil. Post-9/11, the two have expanded the scope of their partnership to economic issues and fighting terrorism.

•MBS is expected to announce Saudi investments in both India and Pakistan. Saudi Arabia, which has traditionally exercised great influence over Pakistan, had recently offered a $6 billion loan to Islamabad to stabilise the economy. In India, Saudi Arabia and the UAE have acquired a 50% stake in a refinery complex in Maharashtra. The project remains stalled amid protests against land acquisition, but it shows Saudi Arabia’s interest to make long-term investments in India’s energy sector. Another subject that that will come up in bilateral talks is Iran. MBS has made containment of Iran his top foreign policy priority, and has U.S. support in this pursuit. India is certain to come under U.S. pressure to cut oil imports from Iran: it has so far walked the tightrope between Saudi Arabia and Iran. Even as its ties with the Kingdom improved over the past decade, India deepened its engagement with Iran, be it on oil trade or the Chabahar port. This is driven by the conviction that while Saudi Arabia is vital for India’s energy security, Iran is a gateway to Central Asia. New Delhi is sure to continue this balancing act even as it seeks to strengthen the Saudi pillar of India’s West Asia policy.

πŸ“° A clarion call to combat climate change

The Green New Deal acknowledges the responsibility of the U.S. for its historical emissions

•When almost all news about climate change concerns catastrophic events, there are a few shining lights in the U.S. and Europe. One is Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, 29, the newly elected member of the U.S. House of Representatives. The other is Greta Thunberg, a 16-year-old Swede whose school strike outside the Swedish Parliament, in a clear-minded effort to force politicians to act on climate change, has inspired students in many countries to walk out of their classrooms and make similar demands. If Ms. Thunberg’s voice is inspiring for the way it has roused the youth, Ms. Ocasio-Cortez is daring in her imagination and policies.

•The Green New Deal “is a four-part programme for moving America quickly out of crisis into a secure, sustainable future”. It takes its name from U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt’s famous New Deal, a series of economic and social measures launched in the 1930s to end the Great Depression. The Green New Deal audaciously aspires to make sweeping changes to the environment and economy and meet all of the U.S.’s power demand from clean, renewable and zero emission energy sources by 2030, while at the same time addressing racial and economic justice. Thus, in many ways, it is more than just a climate change plan. Ms. Ocasio-Cortez along with Massachusetts Senator Edward Markey introduced the resolution in the House and Senate on February 7.

What the deal says

•The resolution acknowledges the 1.5° report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the U.S. Fourth National Climate Assessment. It identifies the worldwide effects from warming, the disproportionate responsibility borne by the U.S. as a result of its historical emissions, and calls for the country to step up as a global leader. It speaks about the fall in life expectancy, economic stagnation, erosion of workers’ rights, and rising inequality in the U.S. Climate change that will asymmetrically affect the most vulnerable sections of U.S. society and ought to be considered a direct threat to national security.

•The resolution goes on to recognise the momentous opportunity available to take action. It states that it is the responsibility of the federal government to create a Green New Deal, which would meet its power demand through renewable sources in 10 years. It calls for a 10-year national mobilisation that would build infrastructure, eliminate pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, as much as is technologically feasible, and reduce risks posed by the impacts of climate change.

•These goals entail dramatic changes in manufacturing, electricity generation, education, livelihoods, sustainable farming, food systems, an overhaul of transportation, waste management, health care, and strong pollution-control measures. The resolution also calls for international action by the U.S. on climate change. It recognises that public funds would be needed for these changes and need to be leveraged. It states that the federal government needs to take the full social and environmental costs of climate change into consideration through new laws, policies and programmes. Importantly, the Green New Deal calls for a federal jobs guarantee for all.

A welcome surprise

•How far this resolution will go and whether and how it will be diluted in the U.S. Congress is unclear. Many details of the proposal still need to be worked out. It has been called “ridiculous” by some Republicans and has made some Democratic leaders uneasy as well.

•But various progressive elected officials, groups, and some activists have lent their support. Almost all Democrats who have announced their candidacy for the 2020 election have backed the resolution. A poll conducted by Yale and George Mason Universities showed that there was support for the deal among most Democratic voters and a majority of the Republicans. One does not know if this appetite for the deal will be sustained, but if extreme events related to climate change continue, people are likely to view radical change as essential. If we look at the political situation when Roosevelt passed the New Deal, both Houses of Congress were under the Democrats. On the other hand, the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act were passed by President Richard Nixon and were regarded as being radical in their time.

•If any country has the “capability” to increase its commitment in renewables, it is the U.S. This clarion call by Ms. Ocasio-Cortez and Mr. Markey is therefore a welcome surprise. The share of fossil fuels in total electricity generation in the U.S. in 2017 was 63%, the share of renewables was 17%, and the share of nuclear was 20%.

The future

•It should be noted that until now no U.S. agency or civil society group has publicly acknowledged the responsibility of the country for its historical emissions. The Green New Deal is the sort of resolution the U.S. should have passed after the Kyoto Protocol in 1997. Instead, the U.S. Senate unanimously passed the Byrd-Hagel Resolution, according to which the U.S. ought not to be a signatory to any protocol or agreement regarding the United Nations Climate Convention that would reduce greenhouse gas emissions for Annex-1 Parties, the wealthy countries, unless developing countries were also similarly required to limit their emissions.

•Meanwhile, Ms. Thunberg’s school boycott movement has inspired protests in the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, Sweden, Australia and elsewhere. If this spreads to many more countries, it can help apply pressure on governments and the fossil fuel industry and create a bottom-up movement led by the youth for major changes in dealing with climate change.

•The Green New Deal is an acknowledgement by politicians that economic growth, the environment and social well-being go together. While these bold moves by two young women have opened windows to winds of change, how far these can progress and whether they will bring the scale of change needed as rapidly as it is required to deal with the world’s dire challenge remains to be seen.

πŸ“° Kerala takes the lead in tackling trans fat hazard

Kerala takes the lead in tackling trans fat hazard
Food industry to be encouraged to meet statutory limits set for TFA, people to be made aware of its harmful effects

•In a first, the Health Department has drawn up an action plan to generate public awareness on the harmful effects of trans fatty acids (TFA) in commercially available food items and to encourage the local food industry to meet the current statutory limits set for TFA.

•The draft is expected to be finalised and released shortly.

•The initiative has been launched by the department as various studies suggest that an unhealthy diet with a high TFA content is a significant factor that pushes up metabolic syndrome and the burden of its associated complications amongst Keralites.

•The year-long action plan has specific components on building awareness on trans fat amongst food business operators (FBOs) and giving them scientific sessions and training on how they can keep their food TFA-free.

•Generating public awareness on the harmful effects of trans fat, especially among schoolchildren, is being given special focus so that the demand for healthier versions of their favourite foods come from the children themselves.

•Clear timelines are being set as to when each of the components of the plan should be completed and when enforcement should begin.

•Salt being a major contributor to hypertension and stroke, the action plan also plans to address the high salt content in processed foods, pickles, papads and condiments by encouraging manufacturers to move to low sodium options.

Need for alternatives

•“The food industry is willing to ditch partially hydrogenated vegetable oils (PHVOs, one of the main sources of TFA in industrially produced food ) and switch to TFA-free margarine or shortening to produce baked goods. But we have to provide them alternative technologies and know-how on re-adjusting their recipes to maintain the taste and texture of their products.

•The pickle industry is in agreement that good hygienic and manufacturing practices and low sodium options can reduce the salt content in their products,” a senior health official said.

Support for initiative

•The department is being supported in this initiative by Vital Strategies, the nutrition wing of the World Bank, WHO, the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI), and the State Food Safety wing, which will be in charge of enforcement.

•An experts’ group has been constituted for the implementation of the guidelines on TFA and salt reduction.

•The action plan has been drawn up after high profile meetings involving health experts and FBOs.

πŸ“° 99.82% projects in forests got nod

Only 5 of 687 proposals rejected since August 2014

•India’s apex National Board for Wildlife (NBWL) — charged with allowing forest land in Protected Areas to be diverted for industry — cleared 682 of the 687 projects (99.82%) that came up for scrutiny, according to a response to a query in the Lok Sabha earlier this month. Only five projects were rejected since August 2014.

•A wildlife expert, formerly associated with the NBWL, described it as a “clearance house.” From 2009-2013, the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) recommended 260 of the 328 that came into its purview — or about 80% of the projects. It had deferred nearly 243 projects after 2013, according to a 2017 analysis by the Centre for Science and Environment.

•“The environment ministry has delegated all powers of the NBWL to a compliant Standing Committee which regularly meets and clears projects in Protected Areas with little due diligence,” said Praveen Bhargav, an NBWL member from 2007-2010 and Managing Trustee, Wildlife First.

•The NBWL, formally headed by the Prime Minister, adjudicates on industrial projects, road diversions or the like that could encroach into Protected Areas or eco-sensitive zones of forests. A smaller Standing Committee of the NBWL is charged with deliberating on the merits of projects that come to it for scrutiny; the committee comprises scientists and government officials and is chaired by Union Environment Minister Harsh Vardhan.

Streamlined processes

•Officials said the increased clearances were due to streamlined processes. “For one, we have regular meetings since 2014, and filling applications have largely gone online. Problematic projects are now usually dealt with at the level of State and what ultimately comes to NBWL is one that has already passed scrutiny,” said Siddhanta Das, Director General, Forests.

πŸ“° The PM-KISAN challenge

The top-down, rushed approach of the government in reaching out to farmers is likely to end in failure

•This year’s Interim Budget is being regarded as a big spread for farmers. The government announced its decision to transfer ₹6,000 every year directly to 12 crore farmers holding cultivable land up to 2 hectares through the Pradhan Mantri Kisan Samman Nidhi (PM-KISAN) scheme. While this is a progressive step, is it enough to mitigate India’s severe agrarian distress?

•The agriculture sector employs over 50% of the workforce either directly or indirectly, and remains the main source of livelihood for over 70% of rural households. However, the droughts of 2014 and 2015, ad-hoc export and import policies, lack of infrastructure, and uncertainty in agricultural markets have adversely affected agricultural productivity and stability of farm incomes. Consequently, agriculture growth rates have been inconsistent in the last five years — 5.6% in 2013-14, (-) 0.2% in 2014-15, 0.7% in 2015-16, 4.9% in 2016-17 and 2.1% in 2017-18. This is a major concern. PM-KISAN is aimed at boosting rural consumption and helping poor farmers recover from distress. Although the scheme is valuable in principle, without adequate focus on proper strategy and implementation, it is unlikely to make any meaningful impact.

Inadequate financial support

•The merit of cash transfers over loan waivers and subsidies lies in their potential greater efficiency in enabling poor households to directly purchase the required goods and services as well as enhance their market choices. Therefore, the impact of a welfare measure such as PM-KISAN can only be realised through financial support that provides farmers with adequate purchasing power to meet their daily basic necessities. Given that India’s poverty line is ₹32 per person per day in rural areas and ₹47 in urban areas, according to the Rangarajan Committee, the income support of ₹17 a day for a household, which is the amount offered by PM-KISAN, is largely insufficient for even bare minimum sustenance of vulnerable farmers. Therefore, to be effective, any cash transfer scheme should first ensure that there is enough cash provided to help bring an affected community out of poverty. For instance, the Rythu Bandhu in Telangana, that the Centre is said to have replicated, provides ₹4,000 per acre to each farmer in each season, and the Krushak Assistance for Livelihood and Income Augmentation scheme in Odisha offers a direct cash transfer of ₹5,000 for a farm family over five seasons, among other benefits.

•Moreover, given the volatile market and price fluctuations in different regions, it is important to index the cash transfers to local inflation. The failure of an ambitious plan of Direct Benefit Transfer in kerosene in Rajasthan is a case in point, where the cash transferred to families has been insufficient to purchase kerosene, as the market price increased substantially.

Implementation issues

•While cash transfers to households may appear simple, the scheme requires significant implementation capabilities. In a country where a majority of the States have incomplete tenancy records and land data are not digitised (for instance, in Jharkhand, Bihar, Gujarat and Tamil Nadu), identification of beneficiaries is daunting.

•The results of a joint study conducted by NITI Aayog and the Union government’s Department of Food in 2016 suggest that the government’s pilot programmes to replace subsidised food grains with cash in three Union Territories (Chandigarh, Dadra and Nagar Haveli, and Puducherry) have failed due to data inconsistencies. While 50% of the people received less cash, 17% received more than they were entitled to. More than 40% of the money transferred could not be verified to have reached the beneficiaries. In the absence of updated land records and complete databases, the scheme may end up benefitting only those who hold land titles and not the small, marginal or tenant farmers who are the most vulnerable. Besides, the scheme does not provide a clear design of transfers and a framework for effective grievance redress. In the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, for instance, State governments still struggle to resolve complaints and curb corruption.

•PM-KISAN is an ambitious scheme that has the potential to deliver significant welfare outcomes. However, the current top-down, rushed approach of the government ignores governance constraints and is therefore likely to result in failure. An alternative bottom-up strategy and well-planned implementation mechanism would allow weaknesses to be identified and rectified at the local level. The most effective modalities can then be scaled nationally and ensure success.

πŸ“° The ABC of sustainable consumption

It will necessarily draw in producers and government agencies through their goods and services

•Expert opinion is that the recent Coastal Regulation Zone Notification 2018 disregards the vulnerabilities of coastal regions to climate change. While the hospitality/tourism industries and local economies stand to gain from the changes, the lives and livelihood of thousands of citizens continue to be at risk.

•India’s vulnerabilities to climate challenges can no longer be ignored. Government, businesses and civil society have the responsibility of constructive action to address this environmental challenge. It is no secret that governments in India do not prioritise climate change mitigation, fearing that it will impede economic growth and efforts to alleviate poverty. On the other hand, several businesses have already established sustainable mitigative measures in their operations. It is time now for civil society to recognise our contribution to climate catastrophes and commit to containing an already precarious situation.

•The role for civil society is to establish efficient and sustainable patterns of consuming essential and luxury products and services and, in the process, improve quality of life in multiple dimensions — physical environment, health and finance, for example. If we hope to make a significant difference, there must be a change in consumption-related thinking and behaviour. This requires that we embed the term sustainability deeply in our thinking and vocabulary, so that it becomes the default mode in which we operate. That implies making mobility choices that result in efficient fuel use and lower carbon emissions. It calls for considering alternative sources of domestic electricity. We need to observe and alter the use of cooling devices and power. How do we consume and manage water in homes and communities? How do we deal with household waste and other items that have outlived their intended utility?

•Making changes in our consumption habits will necessarily draw in producers and government agencies through the goods and services they make available. Their involvement offers tremendous opportunity for citizens’ needs to be heard. We ought to engage with manufacturers and marketers to co-create products and services that support efficient, sustainable consumption. With policy makers and regulators, we must force a shift in the current stance, to address climate challenges with much greater urgency. Civil society should be more assertive about being included in shaping the country’s climate policy.

•It is difficult enough for individuals to change entrenched habits and attitudes. Mobilising a large number of diverse people to think differently and learn new ways would likely be a herculean task. Yet, it is possible, demonstrated by instances of positive and sustained civic action by the public.

•Altering our lifestyles for sustainability has a silver lining — we have a valuable chance to re-orient our lives for substantive improvement. The sooner we act, the more significant the gain.

πŸ“° U.S. to discuss trade, e-com rules with India

Review of India’s eligibility for GSP may figure in talks between Ambassador Juster, Minister Prabhu

•U.S. Ambassador Kenneth I. Juster will lead a delegation of officials to hold talks with Union Commerce Minister Suresh Prabhu on Thursday to resolve several sore trade points, including the concerns of American CEOs regarding doing business in India and bilateral trade imbalance.

•The status of the review of India’s eligibility for the Generalised System of Preferences (GSP) is also likely to come up in the light of recent developments where the U.S. has again threatened to withdraw the export exemptions for India. U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross will participate via video conferencing. Other issues that had particularly incensed American businesses are India’s new data localisation rules that force foreign companies to store Indians’ data within the country, and rules amending FDI rules in e-commerce that had hurt American giants like Amazon and Walmart. These are likely to be high on the agenda of Thursday’s Indo-U.S. CEO Forum.

Higher import tariffs

•Trade tensions between the two countries rose last March when U.S. President Donald Trump notified the imposition of higher import tariffs on steel and aluminium, which affected several countries, including India. In retaliation, India announced counter-tariffs on 29 American goods, worth about $235 million, but has delayed implementing them in the hope of resolving the matter.

•President Trump’s order was followed closely by the office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) announcing that it was putting India’s eligibility for GSP — under which India is allowed duty-free exports to the U.S. for about 2,000 product lines — under review. While the move was protested by the Indian government and industry chambers alike, the review was still in progress.

•“GSP boosts the competitiveness of American manufacturers by lowering their costs,” Sanjay Budhia, chairman, CII National Committee on EXIM, said. “Approximately two-thirds of U.S. imports under GSP are raw materials, components, or machinery and equipment used by U.S. companies to manufacture goods in the U.S. for domestic consumption or for export. These benefits are real.”

•The USTR received applications to review India’s GSP eligibility from the National Milk Producers Federation and the US Dairy Export Council, and the another from the Advanced Medical Technology Association.

•“As described in the India Chapter of the 2018 National Trade Estimate Report on Foreign Trade Barriers, India has implemented a wide array of trade barriers that create serious negative effects on U.S. commerce,” the USTR notice document said. Mr. Ross will also try to resolve trade imbalance between India and the U.S., a sore point raised by President Trump. India's exports to the U.S. in 2017-18 stood at $47.9 billion, while imports were $26.7 billion. He had earlier raised the issue of unequal trade and tariffs between the two countries, especially India’s seemingly high import tariffs on Harley Davidson motorcycles.

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