The HINDU Notes – 19th April 2019 - VISION

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Friday, April 19, 2019

The HINDU Notes – 19th April 2019

πŸ“° Cross-LoC trade suspended after ‘misuse by arms, drugs smugglers’

MHA action will impact over 1,500 people

•The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) on Thursday suspended the cross-Line of Control (LoC) trade in Jammu and Kashmir, citing “funnelling of illegal weapons, narcotics and fake currency” as reasons.

•The move will immediately impact around 300 traders, and over 1,200 people who are directly and indirectly associated with the trade on this side.

•“The action has been taken after reports that the cross-LoC trade routes are being misused by Pakistan-based elements for funnelling illegal weapons, narcotics and fake currency, etc.,” said a MHA spokesman.

•He said there were reports that the misuse was “on a very large scale.”

•“The trade has changed its character to mostly third party trade and products from other regions, including foreign countries, are finding their way through this route. Unscrupulous and anti-national elements are using the route as a conduit for hawala money, drugs and weapons, under the garb of this trade,” the MHA order said.

•A probe by the National Investigation Agency (NIA), the MHA said, suggested that a significant number of concerns engaged in the trade are being operated by persons closely associated with banned terrorist organisations.

•It also pointed out that the Government of India after the Pulwama attack withdrew the Most Favoured Nation status to Pakistan and “inputs suggested that in order to evade the consequent higher duty, the LoC trade was likely to be misused to a much larger extent.”

•In a major confidence building measure, cross-LoC trade was started in 2008 by setting up two Trade Facilitation Centres located at Uri’s Salamabad in Baramulla, and Chakkan-da-Bagh in Poonch.

•The trade took place four days a week. It was based on barter system and zero duty basis.

•“The move was made without any intimation to the traders. Around 300 traders, 1000 truck drivers and 200 labourers are directly involved. They will lose their livelihood immediately,” Samiullah Bhat, vice-president, Cross LoC Traders Association, told The Hindu.

•Mr. Bhat said the trade has been halted at a time when we were expecting dates, dry fruits and prayer mats for the upcoming month of Ramzan.

πŸ“° Plea in SC on voting rights of undertrials and convicts

Provision violates the right to equality, it says

•The Supreme Court is hearing a plea filed by a law student questioning an electoral law which denies undertrials and convicts their right to vote.

•A Bench led by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi, on April 16, scheduled the case after a fortnight. The court is also interested to learn why Aditya Prasanna Bhattacharya, the student at the National Law School India University at Bengaluru, is interested in this particular subject and why he has sought to move the petition under Article 32. It however added that its queries had nothing to do with the merits of the petition.

•Section 62(5) of the Representation of People Act of 1951 mandates that “no person shall vote at any election if he is confined in a prison, whether under a sentence of imprisonment or transportation or otherwise, or is in the lawful custody of the police”.

•The provisions however exempt a person held under preventive detention from this rigour.

•The petition, represented by advocate Zoheb Hossain, highlights how the Section sees both an undertrial and a convicted person equally. The former’s guilt is yet to be proved in a court. A person is innocent until proven guilty by law. Despite this, it denies an undertrial the right to vote but allows a detainee the same. However, a person out on bail is allowed to cast his vote.

•The plea argued that the provision violates the rights to equality, vote (Article 326) and is arbitrary. It is not a reasonable restriction.

πŸ“° Right to travel abroad is a basic human right: SC

•The right to travel abroad is a genuine and basic human right like marriage and family, the Supreme Court has observed in a recent order.

•“The right to travel abroad is an important basic human right for it nourishes independent and self-determining creative character of the individual, not only by extending his freedoms of action, but also by extending the scope of his experience,” a Bench led by Justice L. Nageswara Rao said in its order.

•The court was hearing an appeal filed by an IPS officer who was refused permission to take a private trip abroad to visit relatives as he had a departmental enquiry pending against him.

•Satish Chandra Verma, Inspector General of Police/Principal, Central Training College, Central Reserve Police Force at Coimbatore in Tamil Nadu said he was denied permission despite the fact that he had no criminal case against him.

•Yet both the Central Administrative Tribunal, Chennai Bench, and the Madras High Court denied him his right. The High Court upheld the tribunal’s position that he cannot travel abroad without vigilance clearance.

•Setting aside the order, the Supreme Court referred to its Maneka Gandhi judgment upholding the right to travel and the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case of 1958 Kent vs Dulles. The Bench quoted the majority opinion of Justice William O. Douglas in the latter case which said “freedom to go abroad has much social value and represents the basic human right of great significance”.

•The court said that this basic human right “also extends to private life; marriage, family and friendship”. These are part of human nature which can be “rarely affected through a refusal of freedom to go abroad”.

•“We are of the opinion that pendency of departmental proceedings cannot be a ground to prevent the appellant from travelling abroad,” the court ordered.

πŸ“° A shameful marker of five years

India’s dubious contribution to a global epidemic of hate is a spate of performative mob lynchings

•The most malignant legacy of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s five years in office is that he has made India a more frightening and dangerous place for its religious minorities, particularly Muslims and Christians. His leadership has been scarred by a massive surge in hate speech and violence against these groups. In particular, this period has seen the rise of a form of hate violence that targets its religious and caste minorities, better known as “lynching”. In these five years, this word entered popular discourse in India, for the first time, by describing frenzied attacks by mobs against people mainly because of their religious or caste identity, Muslim and in some cases Dalit.

Contours of hate

•Right-wing regimes that are hostile to minorities have risen to power in many countries. But in no other country than India has this current anti-minority, far-right politics resulted in a concerted pattern of lynch attacks against minorities — and emerged as a scourge in the country today.

•Lynching itself is of course not unknown in many countries. I have found three broad kinds in the modern world. The first is as occasional and random criminal acts, without any pattern or regularity to signal a significant social phenomenon. This can and does occur anywhere.

•The second is as ‘rough justice’, of people frustrated by failures of legal justice, attacking people alleged frequently to be petty thieves or rapists. This has been common, for instance, in Indonesia and Latin America.

•The third kind is as hate crime, one which targets persons not because of what a person has done, but because of who they are. This is what India is currently witnessing. These hate crimes are often dressed up as rough justice: people rationalise cow lynching as popular anger because state systems have not implemented cow protection laws. But the targets of lynch mobs are particular communities, and the allegations of crimes against them are usually patently false — and, in any case, just an excuse.

•The closest global parallel to lynchings in India is the one of racial terror against African-Americans in the American South in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The motive of both was/is to target people because of their identity, to instil fear, and to convey a message of violent dominance.

The environment

•I would characterise lynching in India not just as communal terror but specifically as command hate crimes. India Spend found that as many as 97% of cow-related attacks since 2010 occurred after Mr. Modi was elected to office; and that 90% of all religious hate crimes since 2009 have occurred under his watch. These point compellingly to the conclusion that an environment has been created since the Prime Minister assumed office, in which people feel safe, enabled and even encouraged to act out their hate and attack religious minorities.

•This permissive environment is stirred firstly by frequent toxic hate speeches by senior leaders of the ruling party. A leading television channel found a 490-fold rise in hate speech by leaders in the four years of the current government compared to five years earlier. Mr. Modi has been remiss in condemning both hate speech and lynch attacks by communal vigilante formations, except in the most general terms. The police has tended mostly to criminalise the victims of these attacks and protect the attackers. They, therefore, feel emboldened and encouraged to attack people of minority identities, assured of their impunity, and convinced of their nationalist fervour and heroism.

•Hate violence targeting religious, caste and gender minorities is, of course, not new in India. Violent clashes and attacks based on religious identity, most often targeting religious minorities especially Muslim, but also on occasion Sikh and Christian minorities, have continued after Independence. According to some estimates, the numbers of people who died due to communal violence in India could be significantly more than 10,000.

•There are no accurate official data of casualties by lynch attacks and hate crimes in the past five years. But the numbers of persons killed in all such hate crimes are likely to be far less than those killed in even a single major episode of mass communal violence.

•What then makes this present form of targeted hate violence, through lynch mobs and occasional solitary attacks, so worrying? Every episode of mass communal violence of the past, however grave, would occur in a particular area, and would unfold over some hours, some days, or in the rare instance of the Gujarat communal carnage of 2002, for some weeks. The difference with the new phase of lynch mobs and solitary hate crimes under the Prime Minister’s watch is that it is no longer bound by geography and time, and so it mounts pervasive fear.

Signal of impunity

•Historian Amy Louise Wood writes vividly of the performative character of American lynching. In these “hundreds, sometimes thousands, of white spectators gathered and watched as their fellow citizens tortured, mutilated, and hanged or burned their victims in full view” This, she said, lent to lynching a “tremendous symbolic power precisely because it was… public and visually sensational”.

•In India this same performative symbolic power has been attained with the video camera. In 28 journeys of the Karwan e Mohabbat to lynch victims in 14 States, we have found that almost every lynching was videotaped by the perpetrators and triumphally and widely circulated online. Through this the perpetrators signal that they feel assured of their impunity, that despite their posting their images of committing murder online, they will be valorised as ‘nationalist’ heroes of the Hindu nation.

•But they also seek through these videos to convey to the targeted community what they have been reduced to, begging vainly for their lives from their powerful attackers. Prof. Wood recalls: “Even one lynching reverberated, traveling with sinister force, down city streets and through rural farms, across roads and rivers… To be black in this time was to be ‘the victim to a thousand lynchings’.” In the same way, each lynching in India is reverberating to every inner-city and rural Muslim area: to be Muslim in India today is to be victim to ten thousand lynchings.

•The message that such performative lynching communicates is stark and unambiguous. That if you are of the targeted community, you are no longer safe. In no place, and at no time. You can be attacked in your home: a mob can enter it and check what meat is cooking, and bludgeon you to death claiming it is cow meat. For being visibly Muslim, you can be lynched on a train, while walking down the road, at your workplace or a park. This fear, assiduously encouraged by the ruling establishment, is the most shameful marker of these five years.

•India sometimes creates its own specific cruelties. These include untouchability, caste atrocities and the cruel burning of brides for dowry. While politically encouraged bigotry and hatred against minorities are growing into a malign global epidemic, India’s dubious contribution to this is its spate of performative mob lynchings, bludgeoning its religious minorities and disadvantaged castes into the pervasive fear of everyday living that this has brought in its wake.

πŸ“° Predictable chaos in Libya

The Iraqi-Libyan species of intervention, with UN ‘approval’ but under the West’s watch, is a post Cold-War phenomenon

•General Khalifa Haftar, head of the Libyan National Army, is advancing on the capital Tripoli, having taken control of the east of the country including most of the oilfields. Gen. Haftar had helped Muammar Qaddafi seize power in 1969 before going into exile in the U.S. in the 1980s, but returned to Libya in 2011 to join in Qaddafi’s overthrow. He now casts himself as a conservative Salafist opposing Islamists and the Muslim Brothers, and has the backing — for their individual reasons — of Egypt, Saudi Arabia and some West Asian states, apart from Russia (openly) and France (covertly).

Libya’s descent

•The United Nations recognised Tripoli’s administration is called the Government of National Accord, but is anything but that, being dependent on a motley of warlords, militant or moderate Islamists, secessionists and monarchists, all split on regional and ethnic lines. Even before Gen. Haftar launched his offensive, West Libya was replete with inter-militia battles and kidnappings. The Tripoli government commands no security forces, public administration scarcely exists, water, petrol and power shortages abound, and few banks operate. Thousands are fleeing towards Tunisia, and 180 people have been killed so far in the recent fighting.

•The rule of the gun prevails in Libya ever since western forces overthrew Qaddafi. The oil-rich country, now a departure point for thousands of migrants travelling to Europe, once had one of Africa’s highest standards of living, free health care and education, with high female literacy and percentage of women in the workplace. Its inland waterway to green the eastern desert was called the world’s largest irrigation project. But after the western armed intervention supported by some Arab sheikhdoms, a perceptive commentator noted, “Nothing was certain, least of all what kind of country Libya would now become.”

•The revolt against Qaddafi began in Benghazi, and western intervention was legitimised by the fig leaf of a UN Security Council resolution calling for a ceasefire, a no-fly zone and protection of civilians, on which there were five abstentions which included India, Russia and China. Qaddafi accepted the resolution. Shortly thereafter, France, the U.K. and the U.S. attacked Qaddafi’s forces and NATO assumed responsibility for regime change at the same moment that an African Union mediation mission was en route to Libya.

•The Libyan tragedy, like those in Iraq, Syria and Yemen, and most probably to ensue in Afghanistan, illustrates wider issues at play. Iraqi warring militias after the Second Gulf War empowered jihadists, made Iraq ungovernable, U.S. withdrawal inevitable, and led to the Balkanisation of the nation. No lessons were learned, causing former U.S. President Barack Obama to confess that his worst mistake was a failure to prepare for the aftermath of western intervention following Qaddafi’s overthrow. Western wishful thinking persists in the belief that Libya could arrive at a path to democracy that revives the country’s collapsed institutions, rather than falling under military rule.

Post Cold-War phenomenon

•In 1965 and 1981, the UN adopted declarations on the inadmissibility of intervention in the domestic affairs of states, and until the 1990s the UN was the custodian of state sovereignty. The Iraqi-Libyan species of intervention, professedly with UN approval but actually under western control, is a post Cold-War phenomenon, the motivation being to implant liberal democratic institutions and human rights, along with security concerns, usually thinly justified by 9/11 and lately the Islamic State. Exogenous state-building and a peripheral role for local leaders characterise this innovation in international relations. The spectre of failed states became a major concern, leading to the imposition of a neo-liberal agenda in the guise of human rights protection.

•The ambiguous legal justification for interventions not specifically authorised by the UN, such as the creation of safe havens in Iraq, established a pattern despite negative precedents that showed that attempting nation-building in societies divided by ethnic, factional, ideological and religious lines is beyond the capacity of any minority group of UN members, let alone of one super-power. None of the interventions could have taken place without the projection of U.S. power or its indirect underwriting.

•Two factors paved the way for these neo-protectorates; activists with rights-based agendas joined the political mainstream, and western outrage to televised suffering. Activists united with foreign policy establishments, and third world disorder presented opportunities for sly expansion of mandates into new operating areas. Added to these was post-1990 revisionism towards state sovereignty and permissiveness to humanitarian interventions. Relativism towards sovereignty was anathema to post-colonial independent states, especially when western interventions were selective and political in nature, and the victims of intervention lacked the power to oppose.

•Western nations came to contemplate, albeit fitfully and inconsistently, neutralising a number of sovereign states in the third world that were illiberal, war-torn or internally weak, as potential threats to international peace. But this essentially political project was presented as a high-minded enterprise with altruistic motivations, similar to the post-war occupations of Germany and Japan.

•There were many reasons for the failure of state-building in the new protectorates. The new elites were never very different or more liberal than those deposed. Organised criminality was invigorated by opportunities created by the absence of proper law enforcement due to outsiders not understanding the consequences of their policies. This was because the interveners were more concerned with checking the power of institutions rather than building them, and to appease domestic opinion back home, concentrated on exit strategies and political markers such as holding elections. If the outcome was doubtful even in Kosovo in Europe, the challenge of transforming political and social cultures in the world beyond Europe, where there is no economic pull factor and traditions have little in common with western liberalism, was obviously far more formidable.

•As for humanitarian arguments and the Responsibility to Protect doctrine, such reasoning is malleable enough to be appropriated by Russia in Georgia and Ukraine. Whether in Libya or elsewhere, expeditionary interventions to implant human rights and democracy have a certain heuristic value in understanding the illusions of western hegemony which rose to prominence in our times and sought to mould the third world in its image.

πŸ“° Is the Election Commission toothless or is it refusing to bite?

On its powers and limitations in conducting free and fair elections

•The Election Commission (EC) has come under intense scrutiny over the last few weeks for its inability to take swift action against those violating the Model Code of Conduct (MCC). It took a rap on its knuckles by the Supreme Court for the EC to crack the whip. In a discussion moderated by Anuradha Raman, S.Y. Quraishi and Trilochan Sastry talk of the EC’s powers in imposing the MCC, and the controversy over NaMo TV. Edited excerpts:

Mr. Quraishi, with the EC recently taking action against some politicians for violation of the MCC, do you think it has finally demonstrated that it can bite?

•S.Y. Quraishi: It is a pity that we needed the Supreme Court to remind the EC of powers that it always had. Even advisories for senior leaders is good enough because it leads to a lot of naming and shaming, which is effective. To say that the EC is toothless in ensuring that the MCC is followed is wrong. It probably needs a little more will power to act strongly, particularly against the ruling party, because the ruling party always has an advantage which has to be neutralised. I think the EC has enough teeth. Just polite advice to the Prime Minister is enough to cause ripples. To underestimate the power of advisories is wrong.

But it took a long time for the EC to actually act. Is there reason to believe that the EC is compromised?

•SYQ: I wouldn’t use such a harsh word. The EC has always been under observation. Not only does it have to be fair, it has to appear to be fair. Now that it has got a rap on its knuckles, I think it will be bolder than it has been so far.

Does it worry you that the EC is taking its own time to act against the Prime Minister?

•SYQ: It is very unfortunate that instead of debating the conduct of politicians, we are debating the EC. The EC is partly responsible because of delays. Had it acted promptly, it would not be in the dock.

What are your thoughts on the Supreme Court interim order directing political parties to provide full information on each and every political donor in a sealed cover to the court? I recall a conversation where you had serious misgivings about electoral bonds.

•SYQ: I am partly disappointed and partly happy. I am happy that it has taken note and commented that there is no transparency [in the electoral bonds scheme]. But asking that the information be delivered in a sealed envelope is beyond my comprehension. It is a grave error and very unfair. Is it a state secret? Parties know who the donor is, the government knows, and the donor knows who he or she gave the bond to. It is only you and I who don’t know. Another sad thing is that while the elections are in process, the Constitution has debarred any intervention by the court. The fact that the court has to intervene again and again is a sad situation.

•Trilochan Sastry: There is a procedural issue and a substantive issue. On the procedural issue of whether the court should have intervened during the election, I have no comments to offer, but on the substantive issue as to whether such actions should be taken against hate speeches and on the countermanding of elections in a constituency in Tamil Nadu where cash was seized, the EC’s decision is welcome. How institutions become aware of their power is a work in process and a long one at that. The EC is still discovering its powers, and if it is being nudged and that helps, it is okay.

•On the issue of giving information on electoral bonds in a sealed cover to the court, we are very patient. We would have preferred something faster. The court perhaps felt it did not want to interfere when the election process was underway. So, it found a compromise and directed parties to declare who gave how much funds in the form of electoral bonds in a sealed cover. We will see on May 30th what it does. But the best practice all over the world is complete transparency.

Does the EC suffer from some inherent structural problems in the manner of the appointment of the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) and Election Commissioners?

•SYQ: The appointment system to the EC must improve. Right now, the Election Commissioners are appointed by the government of the day and they might feel beholden to the government or the government might feel that they should be beholden. In any case, public perception is that if they have been appointed by a particular government, they will be soft. A collegium system of appointment should be considered.

It is not as if the Supreme Court’s manner of appointment of judges is free of problems. You appear to be suggesting that the collegium system is working fine.

•SYQ: Yes, there may be problems, but this is the best system possible. If you see the electoral system in the world, the shortest cut-off for appointment is in India. Everywhere in the world, such constitutional appointments are made by either a collegium or even by the parliamentary committees and there is a parliamentary endorsement. In some cases there is a live interview of the candidate so that the whole nation is privy to the appointment. It is only in India that the most powerful Commission in the world has the most defective system of appointment. Mind you, it also puts pressure on the incumbent. The Commissioners, even if they’re acting bona fide, if the public perception is, ‘oh they must be soft on the government’, as is happening just now, to insulate them from these kind of allegations and accusations, a neutral system of appointment is perhaps the answer.

Should the MCC be enacted into a law?

•TS: I think good practice sometimes is better than a law. When we pass a law, we are unable to anticipate every contingency. I think we need to trust the EC to exercise its powers. The moment you make a law, some comma or some phrase somewhere will be interpreted this way or that way and it will end up in the courts. And there will be a legal tangle. The Supreme Court has kind of endorsed the idea of a MCC without giving it a legal status. I think we should just let it be like that.

•SYQ: I am absolutely against making it a law. It is a clever trap. The MCC will be taken away from the EC’s discretion and it will have to be given to the judiciary in which case it will take 20 years for you to know whether some act was committed. Now this MCC acts like a fire brigade — if there is fire, it has to be extinguished right then and not after five or 10 years. Second, its moral authority should not be underestimated even if the ultimate punishment under the model code is advice, warning, censure or reprimand. Its contribution towards forming public opinion is firm. The moment a leader gets a notice, it becomes a newspaper headline. The moral authority of the model code is very strong and the leaders are actually scared of getting a notice under the model code. Third, anything which is in the model code is also part of different laws, and action is simultaneously taken under the laws also. The only difference is that the action will be known to you after 10 years, whereas, here, a notice is served even to the Prime Minister: you violated the model code, please reply why action should not be taken. And the reply comes in 23 hours. This kind of speedy compliance never happens even to a law of the land.

The week before the announcement of election dates is when we usually see a flurry of advertisements from the government. This year was no exception. How is it that the week before the EC actually announces the dates, the government is prepared with its advertisements?

•SYQ: All I can say is that the dates are decided by the EC and governments are very curious to know what the dates are and we never let them out, so that the surprise element is not taken away. The incumbent government cannot plan its political moves accordingly.

•TS: It’s very tricky to distinguish between a genuine policy decision which is announced and an announcement which is for the sake of getting votes. I think everything cannot be legislated. Something has to be left to the good sense of the voters.

What actually is the problem with the TV channel that was launched in the name of the Prime Minister a few weeks after the MCC kicked in?

•SYQ: I don’t have the full facts, but prima facie there is no problem in a political party or a political leader owning a channel. We know that in the south every politician seems to have a channel. So when we were formulating the guidelines for the expenditure monitoring division in 2010 and 2011, we came across many channels which are owned by political parties. What they were doing was that their appearance on their own channels was shown as nil expenditure. We said, nothing doing. After all, there is a notional value attached to the telecast on the channel, which will have to be counted and shown as expenditure incurred. NaMo TV, if it is owned by the party or Mr. Modi himself, there is no problem except that the expenditure on the publicity on the channel has to be accounted for.

•TS: I want to add one point here. You know the framework in which we are discussing all this. It seems to me that we are convinced that wrongdoing will happen and we are trying to fix it by this rule or that rule. Then we are falling back on the MCC. I think the only long-term solution is voter awareness. If the three of us seem to feel that a certain practice may not violate a constitutional right but it violates a moral code, I think when the people of India largely realise that, these things will disappear and among a large section of politically aware voters this is already happening.

Do both of you agree that the EC suffers from no limitations whatsoever?

•TS: It can exercise far more powers when it chooses to, but the one power it does not have is to de-register political parties and you know there are parties which never contest elections, which do not submit their accounts, which do not follow their own internal Constitution of holding elections on time. And the EC becomes powerless. I think with due caution they should be allowed to de-register. In any case, there is judicial oversight.

•SYQ: This has been pending for 20 years. We have been demanding that the power to register does not include the power to de-register, according to a Supreme Court judgment. We went to the government and asked them to empower us. We have nearly 2,000 parties. Most of them are bogus; they are there only for money-laundering. We cannot do anything. To that extent, the EC is toothless, yes.

πŸ“° Both Indonesian candidates claim victory

Authorities warn against ‘mass demonstrations’ in reaction to preliminary results

•Indonesia’s Joko Widodo said on Thursday that his re-election as head of the world’s third-biggest democracy was all but assured, calling for calm as his firebrand ex-General rival insisted he had in fact won the nation’s top job.

•Mr. Widodo, 57, said he had received phone calls from world leaders to congratulate him on his country’s biggest-ever election, but added he would await the final results before formally declaring victory.

Quick counts

•He cited a series of so-called “quick counts” by pollsters, which are based on samples, that showed him as much as 11 percentage points ahead of Mr. Subianto.

•Quick counts have been reliable indicators in past elections. But “we still have to wait for the numbers from the KPU (General Elections Commission)”, Mr. Widodo told reporters. “Let’s continue to work and maintain our unity and harmony as a nation,” he added.

•However, Mr. Subianto insisted that he and running mate Sandiaga Uno, a wealthy financier, had prevailed, citing voter fraud but without supplying concrete evidence.

•“Sandiaga Uno and I are declaring victory as the President and Vice-President,” he told cheering supporters in Jakarta, ending his speech with shouts of Allahu Akbar (God is Greatest) and Merdeka (freedom).

•Some supporters of Mr. Subianto called for a march near Jakarta’s biggest mosque after prayers on Friday.

•The competing claims came as authorities warned against unrest over Wednesday’s “smooth and safe” polls, and warned of arrests. “If there are any illegal or unconstitutional actions that threaten public stability and security, (authorities) will take firm action,” National Police Chief Tito Karnavian said Thursday. “We won’t tolerate it. “I urge everyone against mass demonstrations, whether it’s to celebrate or to express dissatisfaction” at the results, Mr. Karnavian added.

πŸ“° Genome sequencing to map population diversity

CSIR effort set to probe gene-disease link

•In an indigenous genetic mapping effort, nearly 1,000 rural youth from the length and breadth of India will have their genomes sequenced by the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR). The project aims at educating a generation of students on the “usefulness” of genomics.

•Globally, many countries have undertaken genome sequencing of a sample of their citizens to determine unique genetic traits, susceptibility (and resilience) to disease. This is the first time that such a large sample of Indians will be recruited for a detailed study.

•The project is an adjunct to a much larger government-led programme, still in the works, to sequence at least 10,000 Indian genomes.

•Typically, those recruited as part of genome-sample collections are representative of the country’s population diversity. In this case, the bulk of them will be college students, both men and women, and pursuing degrees in the life sciences or biology.

•“This will not be an exercise to merely collect samples from people,” said Vinod Scaria, a scientist at the Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology (IGIB), a CSIR laboratory.

•“We will be reaching out to a lot of collegians, educating them about genomics and putting a system in place that allows them to access information revealed by their genome,” he said. Because genomics is largely confined to a rich urban demographic in India, this exercise, according to Dr. Scaria, would make such information ubiquitous even to villages. “Just as CT scans are now known across the country, we hope to do the same for genomes,” he said.


•Genomes will be sequenced based on a blood sample and the scientists plan to hold at least 30 camps covering most States.

•Every person whose genomes are sequenced will be given a report. The participants would be told if they carry gene variants that make them less responsive to certain classes of medicines. For instance, having a certain gene makes some people less responsive to clopidogrel, a key drug that prevents strokes and heart attack.

•“We wouldn’t be sharing such information in the report. In some cases the correlation between disease and genes is weak. A person can request such information through their clinician because many disorders have single-gene causes but no cure or even a line of treatment. Ethics require such information to be shared only after appropriate counselling,” said Dr. Scaria.

•The project would involve the Hyderabad-based Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB) and cost ₹18 crore, with the sequencing to be done at the IGIB and the CCMB.

•Anurag Agrawal, Director, IGIB, said that the project would prove India’s capabilities at executing whole-genome sequencing. The human genome has about 3.2 billion base pairs and just 10 years ago cost about 10,000 dollars. Now prices have fallen to a tenth. “We can establish a baseline Indian population and ask novel questions. For instance, in developed countries diarrhoeal infections are rarer than in India. Do genes have a role? We can follow people over long periods and track health changes,” he said .

•Ever since the human genome was first sequenced in 2003, it opened a fresh perspective on the link between disease and the unique genetic make-up of each individual. Nearly 10,000 diseases — including cystic fibrosis, thalassemia — are known to be the result of a single gene malfunctioning. While genes may render some insensitive to certain drugs, genome sequencing has shown that cancer too can be understood from the viewpoint of genetics, rather than being seen as a disease of certain organs.

πŸ“° HAL resumes tests of jet trainer

They were halted in 2016 after aircraft encountered problems in spin test

•Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) on Thursday said it has resumed test-flying its intermediate jet trainer (IJT) in a modified version after a gap of almost three years.

•The first renewed test from its Bengaluru facilities on Wednesday was “flawless”, a statement said: “Its success is an important step [in] the IJT programme.”

•HAL had halted flight tests of the IJT in 2016 after the aircraft encountered problems while undergoing critical spin tests. Meanwhile, in-house research, design and technical teams modified the aircraft, which has been produced in a limited series.

•“HAL continued its R&D efforts and undertook modification of IJT LSP4 aircraft based on extensive and comprehensive wind tunnel studies,” HAL Chairman and Managing Director (CMD) R. Madhavan was quoted as saying.

•The trainer aircraft, called the HJT-36, is being developed as the second-level trainer for new pilots of the Indian Air Force (IAF) and the Indian Navy.

•The beginners start with a basic trainer (now the Swiss-made Pilatus) and then move on to the more complex Hawk advanced jet trainer (AJT) before they take up flying fighters or transport planes for the Forces. The IJT is aimed at easing this transition.

•Taken up in 1999, the IJT programme has produced two IJT prototypes. The plane flew for the first time in March 2003. The IAF alone is reported to need 85 intermediate trainers.

πŸ“° After J&J case, govt. treads carefully

Control samples for imported drugs may be made mandatory

•The government may make it mandatory for import license holders to maintain control samples of imported drugs.

•The Drugs Technical Advisory Board (DTAB) has recommended amendment to Rule 26 of the Drugs and Cosmetics Rules, 1945, which deals with conditions under import licences.

•The DTAB says of the proposed change: “The licensee shall maintain reference samples from each batch of the drugs imported by him in a quantity which is at least twice the quantity of the drug required to conduct all the tests performed in the batch.”

•“In case of drugs bearing an expiry date on the label, the reference samples shall be maintained for a period of three months beyond the date of expiry or potency. In case of drugs where no date of expiry or potency is specified on the label, the reference samples shall be maintained for a period of three years from the date of manufacture.”

•A senior health official explained that, previously, the rules applied to indigenous manufacturers marketing drugs in the country, adding, “There was no such condition available in the import licence under the Drugs and Cosmetics Rules, 1945.”

•“So, in a situation where there is any spurious, misbranded or sub-standard drug found in the market, it becomes very difficult to verify the authenticity of such drugs, as the control samples of such imported drugs are not available with the import licence holder,” noted the DTAB.

•The move, which offers much needed protection to patients, and teeth to regulatory authorities in India, comes months after the Union Health Ministry found Johnson & Johnson Private Limited guilty of supplying faulty hip implants in India, and ordered the company to pay over ₹74 lakh to a Mumbai-based patient as compensation.

Changes ahead

•Meanwhile, the DTAB has also agreed to amend the Medical Devices Rules, 2017 to incorporate the names, qualifications and experiences of competent technical staff responsible for the manufacture and testing of medical devices, and the scope of accreditation in the respective forms.

•This comes alongside the proposal for an additional over 700 staff members to monitor the sale, use, etc., of medical devices.

πŸ“° Hard landing: Jet Airways' temporary halt

Airlines must take stock of their collective plight and sell seats at the real cost

•To the long line of private airline carcasses dotting the bleak landscape of Indian aviation, one more may soon be added. Jet Airways announced a temporary halt of its operations from Wednesday night as funds to keep the airline going dried up. Despite intense lobbying by the bankrupt airline, banks stood firm on their decision to not release emergency funds to sustain operations until a white knight is found. With operations halted and the half a dozen or so planes that were flying till Wednesday grounded, the airline is staring down the barrel, especially because most of its prized departure slots at major airports across the country have either already been or will soon be allocated to other airlines. Jet will be able to regain these slots only if it bounces back before the end of the summer schedule in October. Whether that will happen is now in the hands of prospective buyers, who are said to have evinced interest in buying the airline during the Expression of Interest (EOI) process called by banks last week. The fact that the banks refused to extend emergency support is probably an indicator of the quantity and quality of the EOIs received by them. It is hard to believe that they would not have temporarily supported Jet if the EOIs had been serious. In sum, it does appear at this point that a miracle will be needed for Jet to take wing again.

•The collapse of Jet has caused turbulence in the market and also raised some serious questions over why the domestic airline industry is proving to be so perilous for enterprises. There have been more than half-a-dozen private airline companies that have fallen by the wayside in the last decade and more, and it is well-known how Air India is propped up with government support. While it is true that fuel costs, which account for about half of the expenses of running an airline, have been difficult to manage, the fact is that reckless competition is responsible for the sorry plight of the industry. Margins in the airline industry are wafer-thin in the best of times and the combined effect of rising fuel prices and the inability to pass them on to consumers due to competition has proved to be a deadly cocktail. In the race to the bottom, it was Kingfisher seven years ago, Air Deccan and Air Sahara before that, it is Jet now, and who knows which airline could be next. It is notable that airfares have largely stayed stable over several years, benefiting passengers but biting airlines. It is time that airlines took stock of their collective plight and stopped undercutting each other on fares. The Centre can help too by reviewing fuel taxes and surcharges apart from airport levies, which the airlines complain are too high. After all, a healthy airline industry can only be good for government revenues over the long term.

πŸ“° Beijing surprise: China's growth

The Chinese economy has grown faster than expected, but concerns over stimulus remain

•China’s economy is showing signs of a rebound. According to figures released by its National Bureau of Statistics on Wednesday, the Chinese economy grew at 6.4% in the first quarter of the current year compared to the same period last year. While this rate of growth is equal to the pace registered in the December quarter and faster than economists’ expectations of a 6.3% expansion, it is still slower than the growth rate of 6.8% recorded in the same period last year. Retail sales and factory output also showed strong growth momentum. The latest growth figure is seen as a sign that the Chinese government’s efforts over the last few quarters to stimulate what is the world’s second largest economy are beginning to have a positive effect. Total social financing grew by almost 40% to 8.2 trillion yuan in the first quarter of the year, pointing to a credit expansion that will boost growth in the coming quarters. With trade tensions with the United States subsiding significantly for now, export growth may accelerate, further boosting the Chinese economy. Chinese exports reached a five-month high in March, rising 14.2% when compared to the same month last year. The Chinese stock market has also been buoyed by the early signs of an economic turnaround and increased liquidity, with the CSI 300 index rising by over a third in value since the beginning of the year.

•Gross domestic product growth that is generated largely by increased lending, however, poses the risk of losing momentum once the stimulus is withdrawn. Beijing, of late, has once again been prodding its banks to boost lending to public and private businesses, apart from implementing various fiscal measures to boost consumer spending. This could lead to a tricky situation where businesses that resort to heavy borrowing when credit is easily available become burdened with disproportionately high amounts of debt once the economic boom cycle reverses. Chinese authorities may eventually be forced to crack down on exuberant lending by banks when the economy is found to be overheating. It was such a crackdown that contributed to the fall in property prices in the last few years. For now, though, property prices have begun to rebound after restrictions on the real estate sector were eased lately, in an attempt to stimulate growth in the economy. The Chinese government is now walking a tightrope as it attempts to keep the momentum from slowing in the short term, even as market forces try to correct imbalances within the economy. Such macroeconomic policy, focussed too narrowly on the short term while ignoring the long-term consequences, however, does not bode well for either the Chinese economy or the wider global economy.

πŸ“° I-T dept. proposes new norms for taxing MNCs

Weightage to factors like local sales

•The income tax department on Thursday proposed a change in the methodology for taxing multinational companies (MNCs), including digital firms, having permanent establishment in India by giving weightage to factors like domestic sales, employee strength, assets and user base.

•The CBDT Committee on ‘Profit attribution to permanent establishment (PE) in India’ also said MNCs that are incurring global losses or a global profit margin of less than 2% and have operations in India will be deemed to have made a profit of 2% of Indian revenue or turnover and will be taxed accordingly.

•“The committee noted the need to protect India’s revenue interests in cases where an enterprise having global losses or a global profit margin of less than 2%, continues with the Indian operations which could be more profitable than its operations elsewhere.

•“The continuation of Indian operations justifies the presumption of higher profitability of Indian operations, and in such cases, a deeming provision that deems profits of Indian operations at 2% of revenue or turnover derived from India should be introduced,” the report said. An MNC with a fixed place of business in India is considered as having PE in India and is taxed as per domestic laws.