The HINDU Notes – 14th March 2019 - VISION

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Thursday, March 14, 2019

The HINDU Notes – 14th March 2019

πŸ“° Info on Rafale is with enemies, says govt.

•He had submitted in court on March 6 that the government was contemplating "criminal action" under the Official Secrets Act of 1923.

•The court had asked the government to file an affidavit if the latter thought fit. The case, which is a review against the December 14 judgment of the apex court upholding the Rafale purchase, is scheduled for hearing on March 14.

•The affidavit, filed on Wednesday evening, said the petitioners, by annexing these “unauthorised” photocopies in their review petition, have managed to adversely affect the “sovereignty, security and friendly relations with the foreign countries”.

•The affidavit explained that the entire “conspiracy” ranged from making “unauthorised photocopies of the sensitive documents” to “annexing them in the review petition filed in the Supreme Court”.

•The government affidavit said the review petition has 14 sensitive pages annexed. These include a note of four pages marked ‘secret’, another one of two pages and a third one of eight pages. All have been authenticated as true copies of the original documents by one of the review petitioners, advocate Prashant Bhushan.

•The affidavit said the “leakage” of the documents has “offended” the terms of the Rafale agreement.

πŸ“° Karnataka has most number of stolen artefacts

30 whisked away from ASI sites, reveals written answer in Lok Sabha

•At least 12 idols have been stolen from protected monuments in Karnataka in the past six years, and none of them has been recovered by the police.

•Karnataka tops the list in the country that has seen 30 idols or artefacts being stolen from Archaeology Survey of India (ASI) sites, reveals the Ministry of Culture in a written answer to a Lok Sabha question last week.

•In a span of three years, a stone Nandi and a stone Ganesha were stolen from the Ramalingaswara temple complex at Avani in Kolar district.

•A stone Shivalinga was stolen from a Shiva temple in Thimalapura in Ballari district; while, the eight-armed goddess Mahishamardini was stolen from the Panchalingeswara Temple in Mandya is yet to be recovered.

Tracing problem

•“The demand for these Hoysala and Chalukya idols exist and the three southern States are susceptible as there are hundreds of unprotected or State-protected sites,” said T. Arun Raj, Superintending Archaeologist (Museum), ASI, New Delhi, and who was in-charge of Karnataka till recently.

•In Hassan district, three sculptures of Hoysala period were stolen.

•A seated Chaturbhuja Ganesha sculpture from Bucheshwara Temple at Koravangala near Hassan was stolen on the night of October 11, 2013.

•ASI officers had filed the complaint with Dudda Police in Hassan taluk.

•Within a year, two schist stone sculptures were stolen from Nageshwara Temple at Mosale in Hassan taluk.

•A case was filed at Gorur Police Station. “In both the cases, the police have reported that the stolen sculptures were not traceable (C-report). I recently visited both the police stations and spoke to the officers concerned. They have not been able to trace them so far,” said L.B. Kamath, Junior Conservation Assistant of ASI posted in Hassan.

•Lack of sufficient staff to guard the monuments is said to be one of the reasons for the thefts. H.N. Nagaraj, district general secretary of Temporary Workers Union of ASI, said the sculptures were stolen from a place that had no night watchmen.

πŸ“° Swachh Survekshan rankings criteria myopic, says CSE study

‘Cities working towards reuse of waste given poor rating’

•Are Swachh Survekshan rankings myopic? A study by the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), a non-profit public interest research and advocacy group based in New Delhi, did a reality check of cities that secured the top 50 ranks in 2019. It found that the ranking system was skewed towards cities that had only recently adopted various cleanliness measures.

•“Swachh Survekshan 2019 has rewarded cities that implemented a cleanliness drive during the two to three months of the survey. Many cities that work all year towards household-level segregation, decentralised recycling and reuse of waste were given poor rankings,” read the report.

•The authors of the report went on to add that sweeping waste out of sight is not the answer to the growing problem. “This cannot be the way to incentivise and recognise cities for waste management,” said the CSE.

‘Lax for most part’

•Swati Singh Sambyal, Programme Manager - Environmental Governance (Waste Management), CSE, said, “Swachh Survekshan rankings have become like an annual affair when cities work to get good ranking for three-four months, and are lax for the rest of the year. Visual cleanliness has become key.”

•The study found that only the top three cities – Indore, Ambikapur and Mysuru – had source segregation levels beyond 80%. Nearly half of the 50 cities have segregation levels below 40%.

•Some, such as Rajkot, Ranchi, Satara, Ghaziabad and Chandigarh, launched their segregation campaign just a few months before the survey, and have segregation levels below 20%. Jaipur and Sagar have no source segregation practice at all.

•CSE recommended that the Survekshan introduce a cut-off criteria where any city that hasn’t started segregation not be rated.

•“Sustainable waste processing has been missing from most of the top-rated cities. Ujjain (rank 4), Ahmedabad (6), Ghaziabad (13) still dump bulk of their waste in landfills,” the study finds.

•On the contrary, cities in Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Goa, Sikkim and Bihar, including Alappuzha, Thiruvananthapuram and Panaji, that have invested in decentralised waste processing systems, which are more sustainable and held up as models to be replicated, were ranked below 300.

•“This only indicates how myopic the criteria for ranking the cities are,” said Ms. Sambyal.

•She also said that a study has found that nearly half of India’s incineration-based Waste-to-Energy plants are defunct or are working below capacity, and many don’t comply with Solid Waste Management Rules, 2016, but most cities have proposed and promote WtE plants.

πŸ“° Heavy-handed order: on contempt law

The contempt law must not be used, or seen to be used, to stifle dissenting views

•The Meghalaya High Court’s order finding the Editor and Publisher of Shillong Times guilty of contempt, and asking them to “sit in a corner” till the rising of the court and imposing a fine of ₹2 lakh each, is a heavy-handed response to comments in the newspaper on the court’s earlier orders. What makes the order even more unfortunate is the explicit threat to ban the newspaper and jail them if they fail to pay the fine. While courts are indeed empowered to decide whether a publication scandalised or tended to scandalise the judiciary or interfered with the administration of justice, there is no legal provision for an outright ban on it. The origin of these contempt proceedings appears to be the State government’s unilateral decision to withdraw certain facilities to retired judges without consulting the court administration. After the matter was not resolved on the administrative side for two months, the court initiated suo motu proceedings and issued some directions. It was because of a news item, accompanied by a commentary on the court’s directions, that the contemnors had incurred the court’s displeasure.

•The offending comments appeared to imply that the directions regarding extending facilities, including protocol services and domestic help, and reimbursing communication bills up to ₹10,000 a month and a mobile phone worth ₹80,000, to retired judges amounted to “judges judging for themselves”. It is a moot question whether the court ought to have taken umbrage at this remark or ignored it. It would serve the cause of preserving the dignity of the higher judiciary if overzealous comments made by activists or journalists were ignored. In 1999, the Supreme Court had brushed aside some adverse remarks by activists by saying, “the court’s shoulders are broad enough to shrug off their comments.” However, in the case of Patricia Mukhim, the Editor of Shillong Times, the court has made sweeping remarks that the newspaper had always attacked individuals and institutions, had published propaganda calling for bandhs and “was always working against judges and the judicial system”. The defence argued the court should frame specific charges before convicting them for contempt. However, the matter was tried summarily. While it is open to the court to try a case of contempt in a summary manner, the use of personalised views of the publication’s past record to hand down the verdict puts a question mark over the decision-making process. While there may be a need to curb tendentious criticism of the judiciary and self-serving comments on ongoing proceedings in mainstream and social media, there is a compelling case to use the contempt law sparingly, and avoid the impression that it is being used to stifle free speech or dissent. Lenience, not anger, ought to be the primary response of a detached judiciary.

πŸ“° The need for constitutional courage: on Ayodhya dispute

The Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid dispute is a title dispute, not a religious one

•The Supreme Court’s decision to appoint a panel of mediators to resolve the long-standing Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid (Ayodhya) dispute is deeply problematic. By taking this route, the court has given the impression that the dispute is best solved outside the legal domain. In a very short span of time, the court has moved from its position of treating this as a title dispute to a matter involving religious sentiments. It has not explained what led it to change its stance, especially since mediations that have taken place in the past have failed.

Ambiguity in the court

•The idea of mediation was mooted in 2017 by a Bench headed by the then Chief Justice of India, J.S. Khehar. The Bench had suggested that the issue was much larger than ownership of land, and that mediation might help in “healing relations”. After Justice Khehar, Chief Justice Dipak Misra insisted on treating it as a land dispute only. Now, the court has again brought back sentiments into the legal discourse. This wavering and ambiguity in the court has accompanied the case all along.

•Sentiment is a problematic word, especially when there are two political sentiments competing with each other. This is not a question of the majority community feeling deprived of a temple at the birth place of Lord Ram. On the other hand, it is a majoritarian political ploy masquerading as religious sentiment. This is a ploy to subjugate the minority Muslim community further, by playing a symbolic game. In this game, the numbers are stacked against Muslims. Lazy common sense holds that the minority must understand the ‘historical injustice’ done to Hindus by their ancestors and atone for it by leaving the site for them.

•Moreover, even if we accept the notion of contending sensitivities, one must not ignore the sentiments of those Hindus who do not consider this issue as one that defines their identity. There are also many Hindus who would not like a temple to come up in Ayodhya by displacing a mosque. How will these myriad views be represented in the mediation process, which began on March 13 in Faizabad? By creating two neat sides, the court has validated the claim of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and its political arm, the Bharatiya Janata Party, and weakened the position of the Hindus who contest this division.

•The Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid issue was never religious. The BJP has always included the promise of constructing a Ram temple in its election manifestos over the years. L.K. Advani’s 1990 rath yatra not only led to the eventual demolition of the Babri Masjid, but expanded the national footprint of the BJP. The campaign was aimed at denigrating Muslims and entrenching their ‘foreignness’ in the minds of Hindus by using the figure of Babar.

•Since the court has itself digressed from the brief before it, one can ask why it did not think it necessary to first address the criminality of an act in 1949, when the idol of Lord Ram was placed in the Babri mosque on the night of December 22, which happened much before the demolition of the mosque itself. Also, the bloodletting accompanying the demolition of the mosque cannot be dissociated from the act. Why is it that the issue of sentiments is given primacy and not the criminality of the act, when the court is equipped to address the latter? Why is the court wading into the mediation route yet again after so many years of hearing, and when the time is right for taking on majoritarian audacity?

Selection of mediators

•Further, the eight-week time limit for the mediators coincides with the election campaign period and ends just before voting ends. It is not difficult to see which party will use this in its favour. If the mediation committee fails to come to a consensus, this could be used to fuel anger in Ayodhya once again, against both Muslims as well as the court.

•It is not just the idea of mediation but the selection of mediators that casts a doubt on the process. While Justice F.M.I. Kalifulla is a retired Supreme Court judge and senior advocate Sriram Panchu has been instrumental in making mediation a part of India’s legal system, what are Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s qualifications? He has not only flouted laws himself but has espoused the cause of a temple at the disputed site on multiple occasions. He is the one who said we will have a “Syria in India” if the Ram Mandir issue is not resolved soon. By no standard does Mr. Ravi Shankar qualify to be a mediator. A mediator is expected to be open-minded and fair, and if we go by his controversial statements, it looks doubtful whether he’ll be independent.

•At times like this, we expect the apex court to uphold constitutional morality. It does not help in a political dispute to replace the constitutional route with a “humanitarian” one. The sentiment of the court to “heal relationships” is laudable. But it is only constitutional courage that can steer us through these troubled times.

πŸ“° India’s grand strategy on Pakistan

Develop a sophisticated counterterrorism strategy, while exuding a vision of peaceful coexistence

•When a society’s patience wears thin, one of two things typically happen. Either its leaders embark on a bold new direction, or they spin a story for their domestic audience and carry on as before. What the Modi government has undertaken recently, in response to Pakistan’s relentless proxy war, defies a neat description. It is true that an impending national election provided abundant motives to make political capital through publicised air strikes. There is little doubt on that score, and many have called upon the government to resist from brazen use of the ‘national security’ card in mobilising public opinion.

A clear shift

•Nevertheless, the willingness to take the fight to the Pakistani heartland and cultivate a measure of uncertainty is a clear departure from the policy of strategic restraint. Regardless of the specific tactical outcomes from India’s air strike — whether it was intended as a warning shot to demonstrate “capacity and will” or whether it sought to degrade high-value targets — the signal to Pakistan and its benefactors was unambiguous: India could respond to a major Pakistani-linked terror attack in ways that would undermine the costless proxy war that Pakistan has waged since 1989. And, even if the main impetus for this shift in strategy was domestic politics in India, the geostrategic consequences will outlast this phase.

•What has India got from the air strikes? We can point to three gains. The idea that India has a right to pre-emptive self-defence — a right that so far has been the exclusive privilege of the Western powers — has been legitimised by the reaction and behaviour of the great powers during the crisis. The External Affairs Ministry’s February 26 statement spelled out the Indian case as a “non-military pre-emptive action” to make it consistent with the norms that have been guiding other major states in their counter-terrorism policies. The idea that the Pakistan army and its intelligence services could wage a costless proxy war against Indian military targets in Kashmir has also been challenged. By signalling that India has the ability to strike at specifically those targets that are intended to inflict casualties on Indian security forces instead of waiting to confront these proxies on Indian soil, it has created a measure of uncertainty in the minds of Pakistani planners. In strategic vocabulary, this would be described as active defence — passive defence being when you fight on terms set by your adversary. While total deterrence is unrealistic, Delhi has made the other side conscious that its actions could produce unpredictable consequences. Ambiguity about future Indian responses to state-sponsored terror, it is envisaged, will persuade Pakistan to tread more carefully. Finally, by raising the stakes in a long-standing proxy war, Delhi has brought Pakistan’s patrons to consider more responsible and active roles in persuading it to restrain its destabilising behaviour. Changing perceptions of third parties is directly linked to India’s resolve to adapt its posture of strategic restraint.

•The next challenge before Indian security planners is to incorporate this approach as part of a grand strategy. What could be its principal elements? What goals should India seek? Should it focus solely on Pakistan’s external behaviour, or more logically also keep an eye on its internal structure as part of a long-range effort to re-orient domestic incentives inside Pakistan? How can other pieces of the geopolitical puzzle in terms of Pakistan’s international allies and partners, specifically the U.S. and China, be rejigged closer to India’s aims and interests? Finally, what measures could India take to formulate an enlightened approach towards J&K that can straddle the trifecta of security, economic development, and governance?

•The military counterpart of an Indian grand strategy would involve a more robust internal security framework, including the introduction of more advanced counter-terror capabilities and doctrines that seek to substantially minimise Indian military casualties in Kashmir (since 2008, 740 security forces personnel have lost their lives), patiently building covert proxy capabilities that impose reciprocal costs on Pakistani security institutions, and a more sophisticated conventional military posture that can offer the political leadership a variety of highly limited and targeted options to degrade the flow of terrorist networks while also presenting the Pakistan army with a costly choice to escalate to a bigger conventional clash. There is nothing unusual or provocative in this approach.

The larger canvas

•There is a geopolitical counterpart to an Indian strategy too. It must be recognised that although Pakistan cannot be isolated, its patrons and allies, many of whom seek to develop deeper ties with India, can be persuaded in their own interests to influence Pakistani behaviour. We are already seeing evidence of this. In remarkably similar ways, China, the U.S. and Saudi Arabia are nudging Pakistan to rein in its destabilising behaviour. Notice China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s remarks after the Russia-India-China Foreign Ministers’ meeting in late February: “We agreed to jointly combat all forms of terrorism… Especially important is to eradicate the breeding grounds of terrorism and extremism.” While their reasons might be selfish, vigilant third parties can work to India’s advantage. But nobody is going to help a country that sits on its hands.

•Unless India conceives a broader plan to alter Pakistan’s behaviour and its internal setting, it will find it difficult to sustain international support and it would only embolden the Pakistan army to up the ante knowing the Indian side is utterly unprepared for a serious game. India can engage in calculated risks, avoid publicising everything it does, and yet remain receptive to engagement with the civilian government and, more importantly, the Pakistani people, towards whom it must exude a vision of peaceful coexistence. To evoke George F. Kennan, “The greatest danger that can befall us in coping with this problem… is that we shall allow ourselves to become like those with whom we are coping.”

πŸ“° A model policy for women in the police

It must ensure equal opportunities for women in all aspects of policing as well as a safe and enabling work environment

•Women constitute about 7% of the police strength in India. This number is expected to rise, with many States and Union Territories providing for 30% (and more) reservation for women in the police in specific ranks. However, this is not enough. The discourse on mainstreaming women in the police by making policing inclusive, non-discriminatory and efficient in India is missing in policy circles.

Need for policies

•One way to mainstream women in the police is to develop a model policy that will challenge the deep-rooted patriarchy in the institution. Unfortunately, till now, not a single State police department has attempted to even draft such a policy. Thus, neither the Central nor State governments can get very far by merely adopting reservation to increase gender diversity without considering the need for policymaking. A model policy, while laying the foundation for equal opportunities for women in every aspect of policing, should also strive to create a safe and enabling work environment. Without this, all other efforts will remain piecemeal.

•One of the first steps to ensure a level playing field for women in the police is to increase their numbers. Merely providing reservation is not enough; police departments should develop an action plan to achieve the target of 30% or more in a time-bound manner. This also applies to States that have not provided a quota as yet. Departments should also undertake special recruitment drives in every district to ensure geographical diversity. To achieve the target, the police should reach out to the media and educational institutions to spread awareness about opportunities for women in the police. Current data reveal that most women in the police are concentrated in the lower ranks. Efforts should be made to change this. The impulse to create women-only battalions for the sake of augmenting numbers should be eliminated.

•Second, the model policy should strive to ensure that decisions on deployment of women are free of gender stereotyping to facilitate bringing women into leading operational positions. At present, there appears to be a tendency to sideline women, or give them policing tasks that are physically less demanding, or relegate them to desk duty, or make them work on crimes against women alone. Women police officers should be encouraged to take on public order and investigative crimes of all types, and should be given duties beyond the minimum mandated by special laws. Desk work too must be allocated evenly among men and women.

•A major burden of family and childcare responsibilities falls on women. Yet, police departments still lack proper internal childcare support systems. Departments need to be mindful of this social reality and exercise sensitivity in making decisions on transfers and posting of women personnel. As far as possible, women should be posted in their home districts in consultation with supervising officers.

•Most State police departments have received funds under the Modernisation of State Police Forces Scheme for providing separate toilets and changing rooms for women, and for constructing separate accommodation for women with attached toilets in all police stations and units. Police departments must ensure the best use of this fund.

Preventing sexual harassment

•Police departments must also ensure safe working spaces for women and adopt a zero-tolerance policy towards discrimination and harassment, in order to make policing a viable career option for women. Departments are legally bound to set up Internal Complaints Committees to prevent sexual harassment at the workplace. Departments must operationalise the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act of 2013.

•Some of these suggestions have already been made by the National Conference of Women in Police. However, Central and State governments have not yet developed or adopted a comprehensive framework towards achieving substantive gender equality.

πŸ“° China places hold on listing Azhar as designated terrorist

Disappointed by the outcome, says statement by India

•The U.S. has said Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) is a threat to regional stability and peace and that China preventing the UN designation of JeM leader Masood Azhar would run counter to the U.S. and China’s shared goals for stability.

•“The JeM is a UN-designated terrorist group. Azhar is the founder and the leader of the JeM, and he meets the criteria for designation by the UN. The JeM has been responsible for numerous terrorist attacks and is a threat to regional stability and peace,” State Department spokesperson Robert Palladino said at a briefing in response to a question from The Hindu .

•A listing request, to designate Azhar as a terrorist, resulting in sanctions that include a travel and arms embargo as well as an asset freeze, is being considered at the UN Security Council. If no objections are raised by 3 p.m. on Wednesday (local time), the designation goes through.

πŸ“° Centre, Assam lax on illegal migration: SC

•The Supreme Court on Wednesday blamed the Centre and the Assam government for being lax about tackling the illegal inflow of foreigners into the northeastern State and their deportation.

•“It has become a joke. You have not done anything,” Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi addressed the Assam government.

•The court pointed out that though the State’s foreigners tribunals had identified over 58,000 illegal immigrants, the detention centres house only 900.

•Solicitor-General Tushar Mehta, for Assam, explained that the variance in numbers is because orders of the tribunals are given ex-parte as the alleged foreigner absconds the moment proceedings against him begin.

•The court is hearing a petition filed by activist Harsh Mander about the dismal living conditions in the detention centres in the State.

•The court noticed that many detainees continue to be lodged inside these centres even after the expiry of their term of imprisonment for illegally entering the country.

πŸ“° NGT directs Uttarakhand, U.P. to display Ganga water quality

Pulls up Ganga Mission for its ‘lackadaisical approach’

•The National Green Tribunal has directed the Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh Pollution Control Boards to display the water quality of the Ganga at all strategic locations on a monthly basis, to indicate whether the river water is fit for drinking and bathing.

•A Bench, headed by NGT Chairperson Justice Adarsh Kumar Goel, further pulled up the National Mission for Clean Ganga over its submission that the States of Bihar, Jharkhand, U.P. and West Bengal have not provided relevant information pertaining to the stretches between Kanpur to Buxar and Buxar to Ganga Sagar.

•“It has indicated that the States have not provided the information and therefore, action plans could not be formulated within the stipulated time frame. The lackadaisical approach of the NMCG can hardly be appreciated as it has been set up by the government with the sole object of rejuvenation of Ganga…,” the Bench said.

•It added, “We may have to take coercive action, including environment compensation being required to be paid by the NMCG, and U.P., Bihar, Jharkhand and West Bengal for not responding and failing to formulate the action plans for Phase II and Phase III.”

•The green panel has granted NMCG and the respective States a “final opportunity” to file action plans by April 30, pertaining to sewage treatment and utilisation of the same.

•The Uttar Pradesh government has also been directed to ensure that a committee headed by Justice Arun Tandon is consulted pertaining to waste management following the Kumbh mela in Prayagraj (Allahabad).

πŸ“° ‘Much to gain if Paris climate goals are met’

Global Environmental Outlook says India could save trillions in healthcare costs

•India could save at least $3 trillion (Rs. 210 trillion approx.) in healthcare costs if it implemented policy initiatives consistent with ensuring that the globe didn’t heat up beyond 1.5 degrees Celsius by the turn of the century, says the sixth edition of the Global Environmental Outlook (GEO), prepared by the United Nations Environment Programme.

•“Damage to the planet is so dire that people’s health will be increasingly threatened unless urgent action is taken….Unless environmental protections were drastically scaled up, cities and regions in Asia, the Middle East and Africa could see millions of premature deaths by mid-century,” a press statement accompanying the report noted.

•India’s stated commitment is to lower emissions intensity of its GDP by 33-35% compared to 2005 levels by 2030; increase total cumulative electricity generation from fossil free energy sources to 40% by 2030, and create additional carbon sink of 2.5 to 3 billion tons through additional forest and tree cover.

•India is on track to achieve two of these goals — of emissions intensity and electricity generation — according to independent climate-watch site Climate Tracker.

•However these actions are only enough — and provided other countries too live up to their commitments — to limit temperature rise to 2 degrees.

•For India to leapfrog onto a 1.5-degree pathway it would have to “abandon plans to build new coal-fired power plants,” said Climate Tracker’s most updated analysis as of Dec 2018.

πŸ“° In slow mode

Manufacturing, inflation data give monetary policy makers room for an interest rate cut

•Manufacturing activity in the country continues to remain becalmed. The latest Index of Industrial Production data show that output across the broad sector expanded 1.3% in January, a clear loss of momentum from the 3% pace in December and a drastic slowdown from the 8.7% growth seen in January 2018. Overall, industrial output growth slumped to 1.7%, from 2.6% in December, and 7.5% a year earlier, as production in 12 of the 23 industry groups that comprise the manufacturing sector shrank from a year earlier. These are quick estimates that are likely to be revised. But the fact that key job-creating industries, including textiles, leather and related products, pharmaceuticals, rubber and plastic products, and motor vehicles, reported contractions hardly bodes well for the real economy. A look at the use-based classification of industries also gives little cause for cheer. Capital goods, a closely watched proxy for business spending plans, contracted 3.2%, a telling contrast with the 12.4% expansion posted 12 months earlier. A sustained revival on this vital front may still be some time away. A recent survey by IHS Markit of business activity expectations, conducted over two weeks in the latter half of February, shows that Indian businesses plan to curb outlays on hiring and capital spending, with sentiment on capex at a one-year low. And growth in consumer durables output was an anaemic 1.8% (7.6% in January 2018), another clear sign that spending on consumption of non-essentials remains in search of favourable winds.

•If the IIP poses cause for concern, retail inflation data hardly provide much reassurance. While price gains measured by the Consumer Price Index accelerated to a four-month high of 2.57% in February, it is the persistent deflationary trend in the prices of some farm items that is deeply disquieting, reflecting as it does a collapse in pricing power in the agrarian heartland. Vegetables, fruits and pulses and products all posted negative rates of inflation from a year earlier, of –7.69%, – 4.62% and –3.82% respectively. While urban consumers may cheer the increased affordability of vegetables and fruits, rural demand for manufactured goods will remain depressed unless there is a meaningful turnaround in the farm sector’s economic fortunes. Looking ahead, with Saudi Arabia committed to deepening its production cuts in order to keep crude oil prices well-supported, it appears unlikely that India’s fuel and energy costs will stay soft for much longer. And with political parties sure to open the spending spigot in a bid to woo voters, inflationary impulses will quicken. For now, though, with growth slowing and inflation still comfortably within the Reserve Bank’s 2%-6% target range, monetary policy makers would feel justified in pressing ahead with one more interest rate cut at their meeting next month.

πŸ“° CBDT yet to set up angel tax exemption infrastructure

But, officers told to give priority to appeals in these cases

•The Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT) has not started work on setting up the back-end infrastructure required to automatically exempt registered start-ups from angel tax, as had been notified nearly a month ago.

•The tax department has, however, issued instructions to its zonal officers to fast-track the appeals process for those start-ups that have already received demand orders regarding angel tax and to ensure that no coercive action is taken against them.

•The Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade (DPIIT) had, last month, issued a notification that stated that registered start-ups would be exempt from the angel tax if they met certain conditions.

•The DPIIT was to send the names of such start-ups to the CBDT, which was to then incorporate them into its systems, so that such companies would be exempt from angel tax proceedings at the outset.

•“We are yet to implement the infrastructure needed to set up the back-end systems that would automatically receive the names of start-ups from the DPIIT and exempt them from angel tax investigations from the beginning itself,” an official in the CBDT told The Hindu on condition of anonymity.

•The Commissioner of Income Tax (Coordination & Systems) has written to zonal officers, providing them the list of start-ups that have already been sent demand notices and has instructed them to fast-track the appeals cases of such firms.

•“I am directed to request you to kindly instruct the concerned authorities in your Zone to identify cases pertaining to them [the registered start-ups] and to ensure that no coercive action is taken in these cases,” the internal memorandum, reviewed by The Hindu , said. “I am further directed to request you to kindly ensure that appeals pending in these cases, if any, are disposed of on priority.”

•“There is no reprieve yet for several start-ups that have received demand orders, but if their appeals are fast-tracked and the new Startup India angel tax exemption certificate is considered in the appeals process, it would be helpful,” said Sachin Taparia, founder and chairman, LocalCircles.

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