The HINDU Notes – 14th May 2019 - VISION

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Tuesday, May 14, 2019

The HINDU Notes – 14th May 2019

📰 China hits back, imposes tariff hike on U.S. goods worth $60 bn

China hits back, imposes tariff hike on U.S. goods worth $60 bn

Beijing defies Trump warning not to retaliate or it would only get worse

•China said on Monday it will raise tariffs on $60 billion worth of U.S. goods from June 1, in retaliation to the latest round of U.S. tariff hikes and Washington’s plans to target almost all Chinese imports.

•The announcement came after the latest round of U.S.-China trade negotiations ended on Friday without a deal, and after Washington increased tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese goods.

•U.S. President Donald Trump had also ordered the start of a process to impose new duties on another $300 billion worth of Chinese items.

Time for resolution

•Despite the retaliation, Beijing appeared to give time to find a resolution by setting the June 1 date.

•The new rates will target a number of American imports with tariffs ranging from 5% to 25%, according to a statement by the Tariff Policy Commission of the State Council — China’s Cabinet.

•The Chinese response was announced soon after Mr. Trump warned Beijing not to retaliate.

•“China should not retaliate-will only get worse!” the U.S. President wrote in a series of tweets on trade.

•But Beijing appeared to dig in. “China will never surrender to external pressure,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said at a regular briefing on Monday.

•In addition to tariff hikes, China could also use other measures to hit back at the U.S., as it imports fewer U.S. products — which limits its ability to match tariffs dollar-for-dollar.

•“China may stop purchasing U.S. agricultural products and energy, reduce Boeing orders and restrict U.S. service trade with China,” Hu Xijin, editor of China's state-run Global Times, wrote on his verified twitter account.

•“Many Chinese scholars are discussing the possibility of dumping U.S. Treasuries and how to do it specifically.”

•Both sides have indicated that talks will continue, with Beijing's top trade negotiator, Liu He, saying on Friday that they would take place in the Chinese capital at an unspecified date.

•In a previous round of tit-for-tat moves, the U.S. imposed 10% tariffs on $200 billion of Chinese imports in September.

•Beijing announced shortly after that it was hitting over 5,000 categories of U.S. products with tariffs of 5 to 10%.

•White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow told U.S. media on Sunday that Mr. Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping could meet next month on the sidelines of the G20 summit to hash out their differences on trade, although no new talks are scheduled.

•“The two Presidents maintain contact through various means,” the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman said, without confirming a possible meeting between the two leaders.

📰 Home Ministry cancels Infosys Foundation’s FCRA licence

Decision taken at IT major’s request

•The Home Ministry has cancelled the FCRA licence of Infosys Foundation after a request was made by the not-for-profit initiative of the IT major, a senior government official said.

•The Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA) enables an association or an NGO to receive foreign funds, and they have to mandatorily register under it to receive such funds.

•“The FCRA licence was cancelled at their own request. There was no violation,” said the official.

•Another official said the NGO made “persistent requests” to cancel the licence.

•“We requested them not to cancel the registration but they were adamant. So we cancelled it,” said the official.

•The Home Ministry had last year served show cause notice on 1,755 NGOs, including Infosys Foundation, for failing to submit annual income and expenditure statements on foreign funding electronically on the Ministry’s portal even though they received “nil” contributions.

•The Infosys Foundation said in a statement that it had requested the Home Ministry to cancel the registration in June 2016.

📰 Decision to recuse is solely that of judge: SC

‘Litigant can’t raise questions of bias’

•A litigant cannot seek recusal of the judge during a hearing, the Supreme Court has said.

•“Judicial functions, sometimes, involve performance of unpleasant and difficult tasks, which require asking questions and soliciting answers to arrive at a just and fair decision. If the assertions of bias are to be accepted, it would become impossible for a judge to seek clarifications and answers,” a Bench led by Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi observed in a recent order.

•The order was based on an plea by activist Harsh Mander seeking the recusal of the CJI from his PIL highlighting the plight of inmates in Assam’s detention centres for illegal immigrants.

•Refusing to recuse, Chief Justice Gogoi said “a litigant should not be permitted and allowed to question a judge on perceived bias especially after hearing has commenced and orders on different dates have been passed”.

‘Bound by oath’

•The decision to recuse is solely the judge’s own. “Normally, this should be left to the judge himself who is bound by the oath of office to administer justice to all persons alike without fear, favour and prejudice. The litigant, without any firm basis, cannot be permitted to raise such objection on the basis of the court hearing,” Chief Justice Gogoi observed in the order.

•If a judge recuses on the word of the litigant, it may fall into a practice and would descend into forum-shopping, the Bench said.

📰 Collegium recommends Chief Justices to four HCs

D. N. Patel recommended for Delhi HC

•The Supreme Court Collegium has recommended names of four High Court judges for appointment as chief justices of the High Courts of Delhi, Madhya Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh and Telangana.

•As per the May 10 resolutions on the Supreme Court website, a three-member Collegium, headed by Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi, recommended the name of Justice D.N. Patel as the chief justice of the Delhi High Court.

•Similarly, the Collegium has recommended names of Justices A.A. Kureshi, V. Ramasubramanian and R.S. Chauhan for their appointment as chief justices of high courts of Madhya Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh and Telangana respectively.

•“Office of the Chief Justice of the Delhi High Court would be falling vacant, consequent upon retirement of Justice Rajendra Menon, Chief Justice of that high court. Therefore, appointment to that office is required,” the Collegium, also comprising Justices S.A. Bobde and N.V. Ramana, said. Recommending the name of Justice Ramasubramanian, the Collegium said it has considered the fact that at present there is only one chief justice from the Madras High Court.

📰 ‘Discourse on WTO reform lacks balance’

Reform agenda being promoted does not address concerns of developing countries, says Wadhawan

•The reforms being promoted in the World Trade Organization (WTO) are not in favour of the developing countries, the Ministry of Commerce said on Monday.

•Addressing the inaugural session of the WTO ministerial meeting, Commerce Secretary Anup Wadhawan said the existential challenges to the multilateral rules-based trading system were manifest in a spate of unilateral measures and counter measures, deadlock in key areas of negotiations and the impasse in the appellate body.

•“The situation in the WTO has spurred a strong discourse for reforming the WTO, which, unfortunately, is characterised by a complete lack of balance,” a Commerce Ministry statement quoted him as saying at the inaugural session of the meeting.

•“The reform agenda being promoted does not address the concerns of the developing countries,” the Commerce Secretary added.

•Mr. Wadhawan said that the meeting would provide a chance to reaffirm the resolve to keep development at the centre of the reform agenda.

•“The reform initiatives must promote inclusiveness and non-discrimination, build trust and address the inequalities and glaring asymmetries in existing agreements,” Mr. Wadhawan said.

•“These asymmetries are against the interest of developing countries including LDCs [least developed countries]. There is a need to work together to put issues of importance for developing countries and their priorities in the reform agenda.”

•The fundamentals of the global multilateral trade system were being tested through a tide of protectionism around the world that was vitiating the global economic environment, Mr. Wadhawan said. This was not a situation that boded well for developing countries and LDCs, he added.

•“India believes that developing countries need to work together to protect their interests in the WTO negotiations through preservation of the core fundamental principles of the WTO,” he said.

•“The two-day meet gives an opportunity to the participating countries of developing a shared WTO reform proposal on issues of priority and interest for developing countries,” Mr. Wadhawan added. The ministerial deliberations will take place on Tuesday.

📰 Redactive pricing audit and the CAG’s duties

Parliament is constitutionally privileged to know under what conditions a procurement was decided on

•The Supreme Court’s observations in connection with the Rafale fighter aircraft deal by citing the Comptroller and Auditor General of India’s (CAG’s) report on redacted pricing, and subsequent media reports and the controversy over “stolen files” brought back into the spotlight the role of the supreme audit institution of India.

•Many questions arise before the stakeholders: What is redactive pricing? Does the constitutional mandate provide redactive pricing to be included in the CAG’s audit reports submitted to the President to be placed before Parliament? Do any supreme audit institutions (SAIs) such as the National Audit Office, the Government Accountability Office or Commonwealth countries follow redactive pricing in audit reports?

•Redaction is the selection or adaption by ‘obscuring or removing sensitive information’ from a document prior to publication. The CAG is mandated to audit all receipts and expenditures of the three-tier governments in India and report to the legislature judiciously, independently, objectively in compliance with applicable laws, rules and regulations, without fear and favour. He conducts financial compliance and performance audits and submits his reports to the legislature to help people’s representatives in enforcing legislative oversight and public accountability of the executive. Legislative committees such as the Public Accounts Committee and Committee on Public Undertakings examine the CAG’s selected reports.

Not transparent

•In the preface of the audit report, the CAG stated that redactive pricing was unprecedented but had to be accepted due to the Ministry’s insistence citing security concerns. Consequently, the full commercial details were withheld and the figures on the procurement deal were blackened. It was unprecedented that an audit report submitted by the CAG to the President under Article 151 of the Constitution suppressed relevant information. Whether the Ministry’s insistence citing security concerns could have been accepted by the CAG can be examined only by the Supreme Court in the light of the constitutional provisions on the CAG’s duties and parliamentary privileges and prerogatives.

•Redactive pricing is nowhere used in SAI audit reports. It does not seem to have been used in a government audit by any SAI of any country. Redactive pricing in the ‘Performance Audit Report of the Comptroller and Auditor General of India on Capital Acquisition in Indian Air Force (Union Government – Defence Services, Air Force, Report No. 3 of 2019)’ suppresses more than it reveals. For example, in the Rafale deal, Parliament, its committees, the media and other stakeholders of the CAG’s reports cannot obtain complete, accurate and reliable information due to redactive pricing. The reduction in the original requirement, to 36 aircraft, a waiver of the earlier decision to involve Hindustan Aeronautics Limited, observations of the Indian Negotiating Team, cost escalation due to inclusion of bank guarantee and performance guarantee were not compared properly to arrive at the audit conclusion.

Pivotal to procurement

•Pricing is the quintessence of any procurement decision. Along with quality and quantitative specifications, comparative merits and demerits are ascertained, and the pricing of comparable products are compared in decision-making. Pricing is an integral part of the procurement decision-making process of any equipment, product, goods or service. A strategic competitive advantage of a product, how best it should be procured, how many at a time are to be purchased and at what price and under what conditions, terms, instalments, along with after-service conditions, discounts, commissions and other conditions are evaluated to arrive at a purchase decision. Therefore, price integrity and comparative competitiveness are at the heart of any procurement decision.

•The CAG is mandated to get into the nitty-gritty of procurement terms, procedures, comparative advantages and disadvantages without fear and favour to form an objective, independent and judicious audit opinion. An audit is expected to analyse the facts and comparative pricing charts to highlight the financial propriety and prudence of the procurement decision. The institution is constitutionally mandated and empowered to do its duties covering all essential factors about the procurement, customised end-to-end pricing assessments, legal requirements, escrow accounting, terms and conditions and arbitration clauses in compliance with legal and other regulations.

•The executive procurement decision is expected to be completely analysed in the CAG’s audit to pinpoint inaccuracies, non-compliance of essential procurement procedures, conditions and pricing errors which may have a negative financial impact and cause potential damage to the country’s interests.

Complex audit

•Given the dynamics of international competition in competitive products and pricing in today’s modern market scenario, pricing, delivery and post-delivery service and other conditions are essentially covered in an SAI audit. It is a complex audit, demanding exceptional insight, expertise, knowledge and skills. In case the CAG’s office lacks expertise to conduct a performance audit, expertise can be sought from the pool of resources or credible organisations to be coopted in the audit team.

•Pricing decisions must be subjected to detailed analysis, without resorting to redactive pricing. Parliament is constitutionally privileged to know what the executive had done and how and under what conditions a procurement was decided. The CAG’s audit is expected to highlight value for money in purchase decisions.

•A performance audit is done to establish whether the procurement activity was executed keeping in mind economy, efficiency, effectiveness, ethics and equity. Only a thorough pricing audit can bring out the credibility and integrity of a purchase decision, thereby achieving an SAI’s constitutionally mandated responsibilities.

📰 Cyclone damage assessment set to begin in Odisha today

CM Naveen Patnaik writes to PM seeking 5 lakh PMAY houses

•With a month left for the Southwest monsoon to hit Odisha, the State government on Monday said it would begin a door-to-door house damage survey from May 14 and issue work orders for the construction of houses on June 1 in cyclone-affected areas.

•An 11-member Central team, split into two groups led by Vivek Bharadwaj, Additional Secretary in the Union Ministry of Home Affairs, and Ajay Kumar, Director in the Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation, visited Puri and parts of Khurdha district.

•The Central team was apprised of the devastation wrought by Cyclone Fani by the Special Relief Commissioner Bishnupada Sethi, before going for a field visit.

•Earlier, Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik shot off a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi thanking him for the support rendered to Odisha by the Union government.

‘Devastating experience’

•“While the people of the affected districts have gone through immense hardship, the loss of shelter has been a devastating experience The State government is undertaking a detailed house damage assessment which would be completed shortly. The exact number of houses damaged completely or substantially will be arrived at after the survey,” Mr. Patnaik noted in the letter.

•“However, according to preliminary estimation, about 5 lakh houses have been completely or substantially damaged across 14 districts with the major loss occurring in Puri district,” he observed. Mr. Modi had undertaken aerial survey of the cyclone-affected areas during his visit to the State on May 6.

‘Dire need’

•“A presentation on the extent of damage was also made by the State administration, highlighting the dire need for building disaster resilient housing along the coastal belt of Odisha, vulnerable to cyclonic storms,” Mr. Patnaik said, requesting the Centre to sanction 5 lakh Prime Minister Awas Yojna (PMAY) houses initially.

•Emphasising the need for waiver of the Permanent Wait List (PWL) criterion for this particular allocation, Mr. Patnaik also urged the PM to consider a Centre-State fund sharing pattern of 90:10 as a special case.

📰 AI project eyes early stage diabetic retinopathy

Onset diagnosed in 92 patients at 18 civic-run Mumbai dispensaries with device attached to smartphone

•In a first for Mumbai, early stage diabetic retinopathy has been detected using artificial intelligence (AI) at civic-run dispensaries. The unique project is being implemented by the Aditya Jyot Foundation for Twinkling Little Eyes (AJFTLE) and, in a span of eight months, nearly 1,300 diabetes patients have been screened on a retinal imaging device attached to a smartphone.

•Commenced in August 2018, the Foundation has screened patients in 18 civic-run dispensaries across the city. Till March this year, 92 patients were diagnosed with early stage diabetic retinopathy and referred to municipal hospitals or the Aditya Jyot Eye Hospital for further treatment.

•“Diabetic retinopathy is tricky because there are no early signs. That’s why screening is the only way to detect the complication early and prevent diabetic blindness,” said eye surgeon Dr. S Natarajan, also managing trustee of AJFTLE.

Common cause

•Diabetic retinopathy is the commonest diabetic eye disease; it damages blood vessels in light-sensitive tissue at the back of the retina.

•While some patients may have symptoms like blurred vision or impaired colour vision, it’s a common cause of blindness in the diabetic population. A robust screening programme is thus the need of the hour.

•As a part of the AI project, technicians from the Aditya Jyot Foundation visit civic dispensaries along with Remedio Fundus on Phone, a portable device attached to a smartphone equipped with retinal imaging.

•After the patient’s eye images are clicked, the AI on the device screens them for signs of diabetic retinopathy, and prompts technicians on whether they should be referred to a hospital or not. If the image is unclear, the device also prompts a retake of the picture.

•Besides diabetic retinopathy, 97 patients, who had been referred, were diagnosed with cataract, and 69 had other eye diseases, including retinitis pigmentosa, age-related macular degeneration and glaucoma, of which they were unaware.

Not the last word

•“The AI diagnosis cannot be termed as the last word. Thus, the diagnosis is verified by an ophthalmologist when the patient is referred further. But this is an excellent tool to indicate the risk of retinopathy in patients. Also, the added advantage is that the device does not depend on [an Internet] network and is completely offline,” said Dr. Radhika Krishnan, AJFTLE’ chief executive officer, adding the initiative was in the process of expanding to 60 civic dispensaries in Mumbai.

A growing challenge

•The World Health Organisation (WHO) states that diabetes is a growing challenge in India, with an estimated 8.7% diabetic population in the age group of 20 to 70 years. “There are an estimated 73 million diabetics in the country. Of these, nearly 25% are at the risk of diabetic retinopathy,” said Dr. Natarajan.

📰 DNA database coming up for Indian rhino

•The Union Environment Ministry has embarked on a project to create DNA profiles of all rhinos in the country.

•By 2021, the project’s deadline, the Indian rhino could be the first wild animal species in India to have all its members DNA-sequenced. The project’s proponents, including the World Wide Fund for Nature-India (WWF-India) and the Centre-funded Wildlife Institute of India (WII), said the exercise would be useful in curbing poaching and gathering evidence in wildlife crimes involving rhinos.

•There are about 2,600 rhinos in India, with more than 90% of the population concentrated in Assam’s Kaziranga National Park.

•Amit Sharma, senior coordinator-Rhino Conservation, WWF-India, said the project would formally be under way in a year. Mr. Sharma said around 60 samples of tissue have been collected so far from some rhinos living outside Kaziranga. “We are also extracting DNA samples from dung,” said Mr. Sharma. “Once the entire project is completed, we’ll have a database that will be hosted in the WII headquarters in Dehradun.”

•Once the database is complete, identifying rhinos that were killed or poached would be easier, said Soumitra Dasgupta, Inspector-General of Forests. The project is a subset of the Centre’s larger, ongoing rhino conservation programme. Since the 1980s, the government has been trying to move a significant number of rhinos out of Kaziranga in the interest of the species’ conservation, threats from poaching and challenges to their habitat.

•Outside Kaziranga, there are about 200 rhinos in West Bengal, 40 in Uttar Pradesh and 1 in Bihar. “We are also trying to have more rhinos in other locations in Assam itself such as Manas National Park and Pobitara Wildlife Sancutary,” said Mr. Dasgupta.

•There are three species of rhinos, of which only one — the Indian rhino — is found in the country. The rhinos were once abundant and well-distributed in the country. However poaching reduced its numbers to about “200 wild animals by the end of the 20th century” according to a note by Siddhanta Das, Director-General (Forests), in a note on the National Conservation Strategy for the Indian rhino.