The HINDU Notes – 27th April 2019 - VISION

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Saturday, April 27, 2019

The HINDU Notes – 27th April 2019






πŸ“° Supreme Court gives RBI ‘last chance’ to alter disclosure policy

Supreme Court gives RBI ‘last chance’ to alter disclosure policy
‘Existing guidelines contrary to 2015 ruling on sharing information under RTI Act’

•The Supreme Court on Friday gave the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) “a last opportunity” to withdraw a November 2016 Disclosure Policy to the extent to which it stonewalls revelation of every other kind of information under the Right to Information Act, including the list of wilful defaulters and annual inspection reports.

•A Bench of Justices L. Nageswara Rao and M.R. Shah found the policy of the central bank to be directly contrary to the court’s judgment of December 2015 that the Reserve Bank could not withhold information sought under the RTI Act.

•The Bench was hearing contempt petitions filed against the RBI for not complying with the 2015 judgment.

•“We give them a last opportunity to withdraw the disclosure policy insofar as it contains exemptions which are contrary to the directions issued by this court,” Justice Rao said, giving an ultimatum in the 12-page verdict.

•The 2015 judgment had rejected the RBI’s argument that it could refuse information sought under the RTI on the grounds of economic interest, commercial confidence, fiduciary relationship or public interest.

‘No fiduciary ties’

•The court had observed that there was “no fiduciary relationship between the RBI and the financial institutions”.

•The court, in 2015, reminded the RBI that it had the statutory duty to uphold the interests of the public at large, the depositors, the economy and the banking sector.

•“This court was also of the opinion that the RBI should act with transparency and not hide information that might embarrass the individual banks,” Justice Rao wrote.

•“The RBI is duty-bound to comply with the provisions of the RTI Act and disclose the information... the submission made on behalf of the RBI that the disclosure would hurt the economic interests of the country was found to be totally misconceived,” Justice Rao wrote.

•The court however said some matters of national economic interest like disclosure of information about currency or exchange rates, interest rates, taxes, the regulation or supervision of banking, insurance and other financial institutions, proposals for expenditure or borrowing and foreign investments could harm the national economy, particularly, if released prematurely.

•“However, lower-level economic and financial information like contracts and departmental budgets should not be withheld under this exemption,” Justice Rao wrote, referring to the 2015 verdict of the apex court.

πŸ“° U.K. optimistic China would allow UNSC listing of Masood Azhar as terrorist

The issue of Masood Azhar is likely to be discussed during the upcoming visit of top U.K. diplomat and head of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office Simon McDonald, who will meet Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale on May 10 in New Delhi.

•The United Kingdom is “optimistic” that China would allow the U.N. Security Council terror listing of Masood Azhar, British High Commissioner Dominic Asquith said in New Delhi on April 26.

•“We are waiting to see whether the country, which has been resisting the listing will lift that objection,” Mr. Asquith told journalists. “I remain optimistic that we will get to that conclusion. We have been strong supporters of the (UNSC) listing of Masood Azhar for a decade. So I hope we will get to that conclusion shortly,” he added.

•The issue of Masood Azhar is likely to be discussed during the upcoming visit of top U.K. diplomat and head of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office Simon McDonald, who will meet Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale on May 10 in New Delhi.

•After the Pulwama terror attack, the U.K., the U.S. and France pursued the listing of the Jaish-e-Mohammad leader, first ensuring a UNSC statement was issued condemning JeM specifically, and then followed it up with a proposal to designate Azhar as a terrorist at the UNSC 1267 Taliban Sanctions Committee. After China placed a hold on the designation on March 13, the three countries had tried to take a tougher line, threatening China with bringing the proposal to the full U.N. Security Council, and “publicly shaming” the Chinese government into agreeing to the proposal. While none of the moves appear to have moved Beijing thus far, MEA officials say they are more optimistic after Mr. Gokhale’s visit to Beijing last week, where he raised the subject.

•In a press statement on April 22, MEA spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said that Mr. Gokhale had “shared with China all evidences of terrorist activities of Jaish-e-Mohammad and its leader Masood Azhar,” and now awaited the decision of the 1267 Sanctions Committee as well as of “other authorised bodies of the UN”.

•According to UNSC rules, China has until September 2019 to lift the hold or ask for another extension of three months to decide on the Azhar listing, which it has vetoed on several occasions in the past decade. Officials say they are keen to see movement on the issue before the next summit level meeting of the Prime Minister with Chinese President Xi Jinping in India, being planned in the months following the elections.

πŸ“° China says Belt and Road Initiative has entered a new era of transparency

India has decided to skip the BRF in opposition to the BRI’s China Pakistan Economic Corridor. New Delhi feels it is an infringement of its sovereignty.

•China on Friday announced that the financial model for funding projects under its flagship Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) had been revamped, countering criticism that its mega-connectivity undertaking was opening “debt traps” for enhancing its geopolitical influence.

•“We have also formulated guiding principles of financing the development of the Belt and Road and published debt sustainability framework for participating countries to provide guidance for BRI financing cooperation,” Chinese President Xi Jinping said in his keynote address at the second Belt and Road Forum (BRF).

•Mr. Xi’s opening remarks highlighted the subtext of rivalry with the United States in setting the global agenda. In the presence of 37 country heads, chief of the International Monetary Fund Christine Lagarde and Secretary General of the United Nations Antonio Guterres, as well as representatives of scores of nations, he docked the BRI with a new phase of globalisation, anchored by China and its partners.

•India has decided to skip the BRF in opposition to the BRI’s China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). New Delhi feels it is an infringement of its sovereignty.

‘Will work with others’

•Mr. Xi stressed that China “will work with others” to write new rules of international trade within the framework of the World Trade Organisation (WTO). “Rules and credibility underpin the effective functioning of the international governance system. China is an active supporter and participant of the WTO and will work with others to develop international economic and trade rules of higher standard.”

•Analysts say that China’s assertion of assuming leadership in defining global rules is unlikely to go down well with the core of the Atlantic alliance led by United States, where the Trump administration has been critical of globalisation, and dilution of its international leadership role.




•China has been accused that under the banner of the BRI, it has deliberately funded unsustainable projects, which could be leveraged for extending Beijing’s political influence in geopolitically sensitive countries such as Sri Lanka and Maldives, which skirt important shipping lanes of the Indian Ocean.

'Zero tolerance for corruption'

•But countering the charge of China having a hidden agenda, Mr. Xi said: “In pursuing Belt and Road cooperation, everything should be done in a transparent way. We should have zero tolerance for corruption”.

•He said, “We also need to ensure the commercial and fiscal sustainability of all projects so that they will achieve the intended goals as planned.”

•Mr. Xi stressed that the BRI projects would encourage participation by multilateral and national financial institutions and encourage joint ventures in third countries. They would seek the involvement of “multiple stake holders”, for projects pursuing a “people centered” approach focused on “job creation” and countering poverty.

•“We will continue to make a good use of the Belt and Road special lending scheme, the Silk Road Fund and various special investment funds, develop Silk Road themed bonds and support the multilateral cooperation center for development finance in its operation,” he said.

•The BRI, he said, would pursue “high quality” schemes attuned to “international rules and standards” covering the procurement, tendering and bidding processes.

•Unveiled in 2013, the BRI is a giant land and maritime connectivity project, driven to revive the Ancient Silk Road. It covers Eurasia and Africa, visualising a network of expressways, rail and cyber corridors that would fire new engines for global growth. Ahead of the BRF, Italy has become the first G-7 country to formally join the BRI.

Promises greater market access to foreign products

•With China embroiled in a “trade war” with the U.S. and accused of intellectual property theft, the Chinese leader pledged that his country would provide greater market access to foreign products, and guarantee intellectual property rights of foreign and Chinese companies.

•“China will spare no effort to foster a business environment that respects the value of knowledge,” he said.

•“We will fully improve the legal framework for protecting intellectual property, step up law enforcement and enhance protection of lawful rights and interests of foreign intellectual property, stop arbitrary technology transfer, improve protection of business secrets, crack down hard on violations of intellectual property in accordance with law,” he added.

πŸ“° Qatar’s exit visa system to end this year: U.N.

Was removed for most workers in 2018

•Qatar is set to abolish its controversial exit visa system for all foreign workers by the end of 2019 the UN’s International Labour Organization said on Friday.

•Qatar has introduced a series of labour reforms since its selection as the 2022 World Cup host, with the event setting in motion a huge construction programme employing foreign workers.

•“Last year, the exit visa was eliminated for the majority of workers, this year, that will be extended to all remaining categories of workers,” said ILO’s Houtan Homayounpour, head of the labour agency’s project office in Doha.

‘Big year’

•In September 2018, Qatar approved legislation to scrap the “kafala”, or sponsorship, system which required that foreign workers obtain permission from their employers to leave the country. In October, it went into force for all but 5% of a company’s workforce — reportedly those in the most senior positions. Mr. Homayounpour said the system “will officially be eliminated” by the end of 2019.

•In February, Qatar said it was committed to labour reform following an Amnesty International report that the 2022 World Cup host was failing to stop widespread labour abuse. Doha said it was on course to deliver “lasting” change after the human rights group accused the energy-rich state of “running out of time” to implement reforms before the World Cup.

•As part of its pledge to reform the labour section, Qatar has also introduced a monthly minimum wage of 750 riyals ($206) and agreed to work closely with the ILO, which now has an office in the capital.

πŸ“° ‘Govt. nag for dividends may impact OMCs’

IOC, BPCL buybacks possibly pressured by Centre to shore up its financials: Fitch

•State-owned oil marketing companies’ (OMCs) financial profiles may be at risk in the near to medium term due to pressure from the government to increase shareholder returns, according to Fitch Ratings.

•Oil marketers Indian Oil Corporation (IOC), Bharat Petroleum Corporation (BPCL) and upstream entity Oil India (OIL) declared high interim dividends of 67.5% to 110% of the face value of their shares, and undertook share buybacks in the financial year ended March 31, 2019 (FY19).

•“These were likely to have been driven by pressure from the Indian government to increase shareholder returns to shore up the weak fiscal position and finance promises made ahead of the elections in April and May 2019,” Fitch Ratings said, adding that higher shareholder returns would put more pressure on the financial profiles of the companies that have large investment plans for the next two years.

Upgradation plans

•IOC and BPCL are in the process of upgrading and expanding their refineries and improving downstream integration in petrochemicals, while OIL plans to augment its domestic production and reserves. OIL has limited headroom in its current standalone credit profile of ‘BBB-’, which may be revised down if the weakening of its financial profile results in net leverage exceeding 2.5x.

•However, in such an event, OIL will benefit from one notch of support from the State, resulting in the final rating remaining unchanged at ‘BBB-’.

•In comparison, IOC and BPCL have more headroom in their ‘BB+’ standalone credit profiles and are likely to remain resilient even in case of any modest weakening in their financial profiles. OMCs additionally face the risk of government intervention in fuel prices during elections.

πŸ“° IRDAI forms panel to review microinsurance framework

To suggest ways to boost demand for insurance products

•The Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority of India (IRDAI) has set up a committee to review the regulatory framework on microinsurance and recommend measures to increase the demand for such products.

•Comprising officials of the IRDAI, insurers and NGOs, the committee has been formed in the backdrop of a less- than-desired offtake of microinsurance products despite their inherent benefits. With IRDAI Executive Director Suresh Mathur as the chairman, the 13-member panel has been tasked with suggesting product designs with customer-friendly underwriting, including easy premium payment methods and simple claims settlement procedures.

Panel representatives

•The committee has representatives from life, general and health insurance companies in the public and private sectors. A circular from IRDAI said India was seen to be a very exciting market and a pioneer in the microinsurance sector in the world. Specifically intended for the protection of low-income people, with affordable insurance products, microinsurance promises to support sustainable livelihoods of the poor. However, its market penetration remains low.

•While reviewing the regulatory framework on microinsurance in the country and abroad, the committee will suggest changes in the distribution structure, if any, including mobile-based and technology driven solutions. Setting a three month timeframe for submission of the recommendations, the circular said the committee would also suggest creating effective awareness programmes.

πŸ“° SC refuses to interfere in ECI stay on Modi biopic




•The Supreme Court on Friday refused to interfere in the stay ordered by the Election Commission of India (ECI) on the public screening of “PM Narendra Modi”, believed to be a biopic on the Prime Minister.

•“We decline to interfere,” a Bench led by Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi said.

•The Commission had watched the film fully on the basis of the April 15 court order and filed a report. It termed the work more of a 'hagiography' than a biography.

•The film-makers had moved the court, saying their fundamental right to free speech and expression had been violated by the Commission. They argued that the ECI stayed the movie without watching it. They said the biopic was scheduled to hit the theatres on April 11 (the first phase of the Lok Sabha polls).

•On April 15, the court found that the ECI had “no occasion to watch” the film before passing an interim order on April 10 to stay its release. It seems, the court said, the ECI took its call on the basis of a short trailer.

•Exercising its powers under Article 324 of the Constitution, the ECI directed that any biopic material sub-serving the purposes of any political entity or any individual entity connected to it, which is intended to, or which has the potential to disturb the level playing field during the elections, should not be displayed during the Model Code of Conduct (MCC) period.

•“Any poster or publicity material concerning any such certified content, which either depicts a candidate [including prospective] for the furtherance [or purported to further] of electoral prospect, directly or indirectly, shall not be put to display in electronic media in the area where MCC is in operation,” said the seven-page order.

•In a separate letter to the producers, the Commission explained that the film cannot be exhibited as it was a biopic on a political leader and prospective candidate in the general election.

Congress activist's plea rejected

•The court had rejected a plea of a Congress activist to stop the release of the film. The petition claimed that the biopic was a “blatant propaganda” adorned as a work of art in violation of the MCC.

πŸ“° One million species risk extinction due to humans: draft U.N. report

Delegates from 130 nations meeting in Paris from April 29 will vet the executive summary line-by-line. Wording may change, but figures lifted from the underlying report cannot be altered.

•Up to one million species face extinction due to human influence, according to a draft U.N. report obtained by AFP that painstakingly catalogues how humanity has undermined the natural resources upon which its very survival depends.

•The accelerating loss of clean air, drinkable water, CO2-absorbing forests, pollinating insects, protein-rich fish and storm-blocking mangroves — to name but a few of the dwindling services rendered by nature — poses no less of a threat than climate change, says the report, set to be unveiled May 6.

•Indeed, biodiversity loss and global warming are closely linked, according to the 44-page Summary for Policy Makers, which distils a 1,800-page U.N. assessment of scientific literature on the state of nature.

•Delegates from 130 nations meeting in Paris from April 29 will vet the executive summary line-by-line. Wording may change, but figures lifted from the underlying report cannot be altered.

•“We need to recognise that climate change and loss of nature are equally important, not just for the environment, but as development and economic issues as well,” Robert Watson, chair of the U.N.-mandated body that compiled the report, told AFP, without divulging its findings.

•“The way we produce our food and energy is undermining the regulating services that we get from nature,” he said, adding that only “transformative change” can stem the damage.

•Deforestation and agriculture, including livestock production, account for about a quarter of greenhouse gas emissions, and have wreaked havoc on natural ecosystems as well.

‘Mass extinction event’

•The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) report warns of “an imminent rapid acceleration in the global rate of species extinction”.

•The pace of loss “is already tens to hundreds of times higher than it has been, on average, over the last 10 million years,” it notes. “Half-a-million to a million species are projected to be threatened with extinction, many within decades.”

•Many experts think a so-called “mass extinction event” — only the sixth in the last half-billion years — is already under way. The most recent saw the end of the Cretaceous period some 66 million years ago, when a 10-km-wide asteroid strike wiped out most lifeforms.

•Scientists estimate that Earth is today home to some eight million distinct species, a majority of them insects. A quarter of catalogued animal and plant species are already being crowded, eaten or poisoned out of existence.

•The drop in sheer numbers is even more dramatic, with wild mammal biomass — their collective weight — down by 82%. Humans and livestock account for more than 95% of mammal biomass.

Population growth

•“If we’re going to have a sustainable planet that provides services to communities around the world, we need to change this trajectory in the next ten years, just as we need to do that with climate,” noted WWF chief scientist Rebecca Shaw, formerly a member of the U.N. scientific bodies for both climate and biodiversity.

•The direct causes of species loss, in order of importance, are shrinking habitat and land-use change, hunting for food or illicit trade in body parts, climate change, pollution, and alien species such as rats, mosquitoes and snakes that hitch rides on ships or planes, the report finds.

•“There are also two big indirect drivers of biodiversity loss and climate change — the number of people in the world and their growing ability to consume,” said Mr. Watson.

•Once seen as primarily a future threat to animal and plant life, the disruptive impact of global warming has accelerated.

•Shifts in the distribution of species, for example, will likely double if average temperature go up a notch from 1.5°C to 2°C. So far, the global thermometer has risen 1°C compared with mid-19th century levels.

•The 2015 Paris Agreement enjoins nations to cap the rise to “well below” 2°C. But a landmark U.N. climate report in October 2018 said that would still be enough to boost the intensity and frequency of deadly heatwaves, droughts, floods and storms.

Global inequity

Other findings in the report include:

•Three-quarters of land surfaces, 40% of the marine environment, and 50% of inland waterways across the globe have been “severely altered”.

•Many of the areas where nature’s contribution to human wellbeing will be most severely compromised are home to indigenous peoples and the world’s poorest communities that are also vulnerable to climate change.

•More than 2 billion people rely on wood fuel for energy, four billion rely on natural medicines, and more than 75% of global food crops require animal pollination.

•Nearly half of land and marine ecosystems have been profoundly compromised by human interference in the last 50 years.

•Subsidies to fisheries, industrial agriculture, livestock raising, forestry, mining and the production of biofuel or fossil fuel energy encourage waste, inefficiency and over-consumption.

The report cautioned against climate change solutions that may inadvertently harm nature. The use, for example, of biofuels combined with “carbon capture and storage” — the sequestration of CO2 released when biofuels are burned — is widely seen as key in the transition to green energy on a global scale. But the land needed to grow all those biofuel crops may wind up cutting into food production, the expansion of protected areas or reforestation efforts.

πŸ“° Britain to fund anti-slavery projects

•Britain on Friday pledged £4 million to support global anti-slavery projects. Six organisations, such as charity Anti-Slavery International and the United Nations University, a research institution, will share the aid money from The Modern Slavery Innovation Fund.

•The funding will also be used to run workshops on modern slavery in South Africa, improve support for survivors in India, and develop an online data hub to boost anti-slavery policies, according to Britain’s Home Office.

•The Modern Slavery Innovation Fund was announced in 2016 and previously gave £6 million to schemes such as awareness-raising campaigns in Nigeria, the Philippines and Vietnam.

•The Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI) - a coalition of trade unions, firms and charities promoting workers’ rights and one of the recipients of the latest funding - said it would help inform migrant workers in Malaysia about their rights and remediation.

•“ETI will also work with global businesses in their supply chains worldwide so that they are able to improve working conditions for migrant workers and provide remedy for workers where they have suffered abuse,” said ETI’s Owain Johnstone.

•The British government has committed a total of 200 million pounds in aid funding to combat modern-day slavery overseas, and given several million pounds to nations from Albania to Vietnam.



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