The HINDU Notes – 12th July 2019 - VISION

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Friday, July 12, 2019

The HINDU Notes – 12th July 2019

📰 A welcome debate on electoral reforms

A number of practical and constructive proposals were raised by Opposition parties in Parliament last week

•On July 3, a short-duration discussion in the Rajya Sabha on electoral reforms attracted my attention. It was initiated by Trinamool Congress (TMC) MP Derek O’Brien, with the backing of as many as 14 Opposition parties. I have been extremely passionate and vocal about the issue throughout my years in office as well as after, and it was heartening to see political parties across the ideological divide trying to push the subject of how to make elections freer, fairer and more representative.

•The TMC MP touched on six major themes — appointment system for Election Commissioners and Chief Election Commissioner (CEC); money power; Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs); the idea of simultaneous elections; the role social media (which he called “cheat India platforms”); and lastly, the use of government data and surrogate advertisements to target certain sections of voters.

Appointment process

•On the issue of appointments of Election Commissioners, Mr. O’Brien quoted B.R. Ambedkar’s statement to the Constituent Assembly that “the tenure can’t be made a fixed and secure tenure if there is no provision in the Constitution to prevent a fool or a naive or a person who is likely to be under the thumb of the executive.”

•The demand for revisiting the issue was supported by the Communist Party of India (CPI); the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M); the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), all of whom demanded the introduction of a collegium system. As regards the chronic problem of the crippling influence of money power, Mr. O’Brien spoke about various reports and documents — a 1962 private member’s Bill by Atal Bihari Vajpayee; the Goswami committee report on electoral reforms (1990); and the Indrajit Gupta committee report on state funding of elections (1998). Congress MP Kapil Sibal, citing an independent think tank report on poll expenditure released in June, discussed at length the regressive impact of amending the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act (FCRA) and removing the 7.5% cap on corporate donations.

•Congress MP Rajeev Gowda termed electoral bonds “a farce” and gave a proposal for state funding (of political parties) based on either a National Electoral Fund or the number of votes obtained by the respective parties. He also proposed crowdfunding in the form of small donations. He said that the current expenditure cap on candidates is unrealistic and should either be raised or removed to encourage transparency.

•The Biju Janata Dal (BJD) supported capping the expenditure of political parties in accordance with a 1975 judgement of the Supreme Court on Section 77 of the Representation of the People Act (RPA), 1951. The Samajwadi Party (SP) suggested that expenditure on private planes etc. should be added to the candidates’ accounts and not to those of the party. Banning of corporate donations was passionately advocated by the CPI and the CPI (M).

•The old issue of returning to ballot papers was raised by several parties. The TMC said that “when technology doesn’t guarantee perfection, you have to question technology.” On the other hand, the BJD, the Janata Dal (United) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) asserted that EVMs have reduced election-related violence in States like Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. The BJD said that to strengthen public faith in Voter-Verified Paper Audit Trails, five machines should be counted right in the beginning. The BSP added that postal ballots should be scanned before counting so as to increase transparency.

On simultaneous elections

•Many BJP MPs highlighted issues linked to electoral fatigue, expenditure and governance and also reports of the Law Commission and NITI Aayog to push for simultaneous elections.

•Vinay Sahasrabuddhe of the BJP said that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s proposal should be seen with an open mind and made a suggestion that it should be understood as a call for minimum cycle of elections rather than “one nation one election”.

•But the TMC said that the solution lies in consulting constitutional experts and publishing a white paper for more deliberation. Simultaneous elections were vehemently opposed by CPI MP D. Raja, who called them “unconstitutional and unrealistic.” Quoting Ambedkar, he said that accountability should hold precedence over stability. Internal democracy within political parties was also mentioned by a couple of speakers. The BJD suggested that an independent regulator should be mandated to supervise and ensure inner-party democracy.

•For improving the representativeness of elections, the demand for proportional representation system was put forth by the DMK, the CPI and the CPI (M). The DMK cited the example of the BSP’s performance in 2014 Lok Sabha elections, when the party got a vote share of nearly 20% in Uttar Pradesh but zero seats. A number of MPs argued for a mixed system, where there was a provision for both First Past the Post and Proportional Representation systems.

•The important issue of the “fidelity of electoral rolls” was raised by the YSR Congress Party (YSRCP). The idea of a common electoral roll for all the three tiers of democracy was supported by the BJP and the SP.

•For remedying the ‘ruling party advantage’ in elections, SP MP Ram Gopal Yadav made a radical suggestion that all MPs/MLAs should resign six months before elections and a national government should be formed at the Centre. He said States should be ruled by the Governor who would have to follow the binding advice of a three-member High Court advisory board.

Advocacy over the years

•I have long been an advocate of a number of these reform recommendations. Some proposals that I have elaborated upon in detail throughout the years include — reducing the number of phases in elections by raising more security forces; depoliticisation of constitutional appointments by appointing Commissioners through a broad-based collegium; state funding of political parties by means of a National Electoral Fund or on the basis of the number of votes obtained; capping the expenditure of political parties; giving the Election Commission of India (ECI) powers to de-register recalcitrant political parties; inclusion of proportional representation system; and revisiting the Information Technology Act, to strengthen social media regulations.

•Hence, the parliamentary debate was music to my ears. But Indian politics has been suffering from a wide gap between thought and action. The governments should also rise above their obsession with immediate electoral gains and think of long-term national interests. The TMC MP was right in saying that Parliament must not only urgently “debate and deliberate but also legislate” on electoral reforms. The time has come to find and enact concrete solutions in the national interest. Having heard a number of practical and constructive proposals raised in the Rajya Sabha last week, I remain hopeful that Parliament will take it upon itself to enable the world’s largest democracy to become the world’s greatest.

📰 Government redefines child porn, moots stiff penalties under POCSO

The amended law will also apply to animated content depicting children and where adults pretend to be children

•Watching, possessing or circulating animations or cartoons that depict a minor engaging in a sexually explicit conduct could land you in jail. The Union Cabinet has approved a new definition for child pornography in its amendments to the POCSO Act, which is likely to be introduced in Parliament next week.

•The new definition reads, “Any visual depiction of sexually explicit conduct involving a child which include photographs, video, digital or computer generated image indistinguishable from an actual child and an image created, adapted or modified but appear to depict a child.”

•Neither Section 67 of the IT Act nor Section 293 of the Indian Penal Code define child pornography. Its definition derived from what constitutes pornography, which is defined as “any material which is lascivious or appeals to the prurient interests or if its effect is such as to tend to deprave or corrupt the minds of those who are likely to see, read and hear the same.”

•According to the spokesperson of the Women and Child Development Ministry, the amended law will also apply to pornographic content where adults or young adults pretend to be children.

•“It is the WCD Minister's (Smriti Irani's) initiative that from now there will be zero tolerance for child pornography and for that reason the definition of child pornography was essential as definition leads to setting the context of the crime. Only prescribing punishment leads to possibility that the case may get entangled in inconclusive legal battles,” the Ministry spokesperson said.

•The Cabinet has also enhanced the fine for possessing child porn but not deleting or reporting it to ₹5,000 from the earlier proposal of ₹1,000. If a person stores such content for distributing it further, except for when presenting it in court as evidence, he could face a punishment of upto three years.

•Some of these provisions were also contained in the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Amendment Bill, 2019, but it lapsed.

📰 U.S., India to begin formal talks on trade on July 12

The two sides will discuss the issue of tariffs, regulatory changes by India on data localisation, e-commerce and imports

•Visiting U.S. trade officials will meet with Commerce and Industry Minister Piyush Goyal on Friday, after two days of talks with a “composite delegation” from the Commerce ministry and the Ministry of External Affairs, the first formal effort to resolve the recent Indo-U.S. trade impasse.

•“Since India’s election period has now passed, USTR officials are visiting India for relationship building with Indian government counterparts, including introductory meetings,” said a spokesperson for the United States Trade Representative (USTR). The U.S. delegation is led by the Assistant USTR for South and Central Asia, Christopher Wilson, and talks on the Indian side are being led by an Additional Secretary from the Commerce ministry.

•On Thursday, the two sides met for “informal” talks, and “comprehensive” formal talks will begin on Friday, officials said. The USTR visit was agreed upon by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and U.S. President Donald Trump when they met in Osaka on the sidelines of the G-20 summit.

•“Our approach is to engage [with the USTR team] constructively, in a positive manner,” MEA spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said on Thursday. “Many of these issues were discussed by PM and President Trump and we look forward to resolving them... many are technical in nature like tariffs, we will have to wait and see how they will be addressed, and what is the outcome of the talks,” he added.

Tariffs likely in focus

•The two sides will discuss the issue of tariffs, which have been raised on both sides in the past year, as well as regulatory changes by India on data localisation, e-commerce and import curbs, that the U.S. has protested. Mr. Trump has tweeted twice in the recent past, before and after his meeting with Mr. Modi, and on both occasions criticised India on high tariffs. Since he took office in January 2017, Mr. Trump has consistently pushed for India to cut tariffs on Harley Davidson motorcycles to zero to match American duties on Indian motorcycles, but there has been no indication that New Delhi is prepared to oblige yet.

•The MEA spokesperson declined to comment specifically on which issues were being discussed on Thursday and Friday, including whether the U.S. objections to Chinese telecommunications company Huawei being considered for 5G trials was among them, but said that the “entire gamut of issues related to trade will be on the table.”

•The two sides are also expected to set a date for a meting between Mr. Goyal and the U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer in the next few weeks, when trade talks will be formally resumed after they collapsed in November, and the standoff escalated after the U.S. withdrew India’s Generalised System of Preferences (GSP) trade status this year.

📰 More Foreigners’ Tribunals in Assam

200 to be set up in addition to existing 100 to handle NRC cases after July 31

•The Assam government will establish 200 Foreigners’ Tribunals (FTs) for handling cases of people to be excluded from the final National Register of Citizens (NRC). July 31 is the deadline for publishing the NRC.

•These FTs would be in addition to the existing 100 and are part of the 1,000 that the Centre had decided to help Assam set up in view of the pressure anticipated in disposing of cases of people to be left out of the NRC.

•Officials in the State’s Home and Political Department said the new FTs would be distributed among six districts. Kamrup (Metropolitan) district, which covers Guwahati and outskirts, would get 67 of these, followed by Nagaon with 39, Jorhat with 31, Bongaigaon with 22, Sonitpur with 21, and Cachar with 20.

•“Apart from the cases of people left out of the NRC, the new FTs will deal with the regular cases of D-voters [doubtful voters],” a senior officer said.

•Organisations representing Bengali-speaking Hindus and Muslims feel more FTs will bring more misery unless the tribunals are made fully judicial bodies. More than 80% of the 41.09 lakh people put in the two exclusion lists belong to these two groups.

•Those left out, however, were provided windows to get back in the NRC after re-submitting admissible citizenship papers.

•According to the All Assam Minority Students’ Union (AAMSU), the FTs and the border wing of the Assam Police “are foreigner-producing factories”. The border wing picks suspected foreigners and refers their cases to the FTs.

📰 Nagaland to frame RIIN norms after consultation

Call for restricting survey to non-locals

•The Nagaland government has said guidelines for implementing a localised version of the National Register of Citizens — being updated in Assam — would be framed in consultation with civil society groups and traditional tribal bodies.

•The decision follows remarks from organisations such as the Naga Hoho, the apex body of all Nagaland’s tribes, that the Register of Indigenous Inhabitants of Nagaland (RIIN) was premature and could have serious ramifications. Other groups, including the Naga Students’ Federation, said the survey should be restricted to non-locals.

•The RIIN exercise was launched on Thursday with designated teams surveying people living in every village and urban ward to prepare a list of indigenous inhabitants who would be provided a certificate.

•Nagaland’s Home Commissioner R. Ramakrishnan on Thursday said the concerns and observations of different sections was a welcome development.

•“The State government is of the opinion that the present exercises are new initiatives and need consultations with participation from all stakeholders,” he said.

•The guidelines for implementation of the policies are still at an early stage of formulation and will be finalised after extensive consultations are carried out,” he said.

•The government has also assured the people that it will not take any hasty decision. “Rather, the process will involve and engage the civil society and the citizenry of the State. No decision that is discriminatory or in contravention of the interest of the people or any community will be undertaken,” Mr. Ramakrishnan said.

•December 1, 1963, the date on which Nagaland attained statehood is the base year for determining an indigenous inhabitant of the State. The State government claimed that RIIN was being undertaken to prevent outsiders from acquiring fake indigenous inhabitant certificates for seeking jobs and be beneficiaries of government schemes.

•But critics said RIIN could be challenging because there is no clear definition of who is an indigenous inhabitant, although the State has 16 recognised tribes. Attempts to arrive at a conclusion have failed because of a Naga customary law that allows adoption of other communities.

•An example is that of the Gurkhas who settled in the State before December 1963. They have been recognised as indigenous.

📰 India urges Commonwealth to readmit Maldives as member

External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar makes appeal at the 19th Commonwealth Foreign Affairs Ministers Meet in London

•India has urged the Commonwealth to expedite readmission of the Maldives as a member country. External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar conveyed India’s stand at the 19 Commonwealth Foreign Affairs Ministers Meeting in London.

•“The External Affairs Minister... congratulated the member countries on the 70th anniversary of the Commonwealth. He also noted that India is well on the path to fulfil all the commitments made by Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting 2018. The Minister called for fast-tracking of the process of readmission of the Maldives to the Commonwealth,” the Ministry of External Affairs said in a statement.

•The supportcame weeks after Mr. Modi visited Male in his first overseas trip after his re-election. The Maldives withdrew from the Commonwealth during the tenure of President Abdullah Yameen in 2016 after the Commonwealth expressed serious concern over the deteriorating human rights situation in the country. Ibrahim Mohamed Solih was elected President in a democratic wave against the rule of Mr. Yameen.

•Mr. Jaishankar interacted with his counterparts from Australia, Canada, Bangladesh and British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt. He thanked the British government for supporting Mr. Modi’s initiative to build a global Coalition of Disaster Resilient Infrastructure.

📰 Jobless growth becomes more systemic

Earlier confined largely to the organised sector, it has now spread to other areas, as revealed by the latest survey results

•The findings of the latest employment survey, called the Periodic Labour Force Survey (2017-18), are a cause for concern as the scenario is still far from anything that would denote decent employment. The two biggest issues here are: the shrinking share of the labour force; and the rising unemployment.

•The labour force participation rate (% of people working or seeking work in the above-15 years age category) in the earlier survey of 2012 was 55.5%. This has shrunk to 49.7% in 2018. There is an absolute decline in the number of workers from 467.7 million in 2012 to 461.5 million in 2018.

Multiple dimensions

•Recent attempts by some to create an impression that self-employment has not been captured by the National Sample Survey is absolutely false since the definition of ‘employment’ includes in itself ‘self-’ as well as ‘wage employment’. Within the category of ‘self-employed’, the survey also counts those engaged in ‘unpaid family labour’.

•The figure for the overall unemployment rate at 6.1% is 2.77 times the same figure for 2012. A few experts have raised doubts about comparability of estimates between the two periods though we feel that they are not substantial issues that prevent anyone from a judicious comparison.

•The rise in overall unemployment has both locational and gender dimensions. The highest unemployment rate of a severe nature was among the urban women at 10.8%; followed by urban men at 7.1%; rural men at 5.8%; and rural women at 3.8%.

•When we ignore the location of residence, we find that severe unemployment among men at 6.2% was higher than among women at 5.7%. However, given the sharp decline in women’s labour force participation rate, they have been losing out heavily due to the double whammy of exclusion from the labour force and an inability to access employment when included in the labour force. The decline in women’s labour force participation from 31% to 24% means that India is among the countries with the lowest participation of women in the labour force.

•The issue of educated unemployment, given its link with not just growth but also with transformative development, has never been as acute as at present. Defined as unemployment among those with at least a secondary school certificate, it is at 11.4% compared to the previous survey’s figure of 4.9%.

•But what is significant is that the unemployment rates go up as levels of education go up. Among those with secondary school education, it is 5.7% but jumps to 10.3% when those with higher secondary-level education are considered.

•The highest rate is among the diploma and certificate holders (19.8%); followed by graduates (17.2); and postgraduates (14.6%).

•Of course, educated persons are likely to have aspirations for specific jobs and hence likely to go through a longer waiting period than their less-educated counterparts. They are also likely to be less economically deprived. But the country’s inability to absorb the educated into gainful employment is indeed an economic loss and a demoralising experience both for the unemployed and those enthusiastically enrolling themselves for higher education.

Burden more among women

•Here again, the burden is the highest among urban women (19.8%) followed by rural women (17.3%), rural men (10.5%) and urban men (9.2%). Among the educated, women face a more unfavourable situation than men despite a low labour force participation rate. Compared to the earlier 2012 survey, unemployment of educated men has more than doubled in both rural and urban areas and in the case of women, the rate has nearly doubled. However, it is important to remember is that the rate was higher for educated women, when compared to educated men, in both the periods.

•It is almost scandalous that youth unemployment rate (unemployment among those in the 15-29 years age category) has reached a high 17.8%. Even here, the women stand more disadvantaged than the men, especially urban women, whose unemployment rate of 27.2% is more than double the 2012 figure of 13.1%. The rate for urban men, at 18.7%, is particularly high as well.

•The overall conclusion here is that the trend of ‘jobless growth’ that was till recently confined largely, if not only, to the organised sector has now spread to other sectors of the economy, making it more generalised. This calls for a thorough re-examination of the missing linkages between growth and employment.

📰 Govt. to buy ‘untested’ goods to aid start-ups

•The Centre has proposed to relax the General Financial Rules (GFR) to enable all government organisations to accept “untested innovative goods and services solutions from start-ups.” The government also plans to do away with “competitive tendering” while placing orders from such start-ups as it would amount to competition between “established and new business entities.”

•The plan proposes that a minimum 2% of the procurement budget of a ministry or department may be “earmarked for procurement of such goods or services which are yet to be tested or evaluated and brought to market as acceptable commercial product service or technology.”

•In her maiden budget speech on July 5, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman had announced easing tax scrutiny for start-ups and those investing in such firms.

•On July 10, the Ministry of Finance asked all government departments to send their comments on its proposal to insert a new Rule 144A in General Financial Rules relating to special consideration for procurement incidental to development of untested goods and services.

•GFRs are a compilation of rules and orders of Government of India to be followed by all while dealing with matters involving public finance.

•“Supporting innovation and entrepreneurship is part of public policy to develop domestic manufacturing capability. Hence ways and means need to be found to screen proposals for new development to pick up promising ones based on thorough examination by domain experts for financing from public exchequer,” the government said in the proposal.

•“The Ministries or Departments may approve incurring expenditure incidental to development of new products and technologies which require proving a concept or developing and testing prototypes,” the Centre said.

📰 Japan’s Hayabusa2 probe makes touchdown on asteroid

It will collect samples from beneath the surface of Ryugu as part of an effort to understand the origins of the solar system

•Japan’s Hayabusa2 probe made a “perfect” touchdown on Thursday on a distant asteroid, collecting samples from beneath the surface in an unprecedented mission that could shed light on the origins of the solar system.

•“We’ve collected a part of the solar system’s history,” project manager Yuichi Tsuda said at a jubilant press conference hours after the successful landing was confirmed.

•“We have never gathered sub-surface material from a celestial body further away than the moon,” he added.

•“We did it and we succeeded in a world first.”

•Confirmation of the landing came only after Hayabusa2 lifted back up from the asteroid and resumed communications with the control room. Research director Takashi Kubota told reporters that the touchdown operation was “more than perfect.” And Mr. Tsuda, with a grin, said he rated it “1000 points out of 100.”

Preparation lauded

•“The probe moved perfectly and the team’s preparation work was perfect,” he said.

•The brief landing on Thursday is the second time Hayabusa2 has touched down on the desolate asteroid Ryugu, some 300 million kilometres from Earth.

•Ryugu, which means “Dragon Palace” in Japanese, refers to a castle at the bottom of the ocean in an ancient Japanese tale.

•The complex multi-year Hayabusa2 mission has also involved sending rovers and robots down to the surface.

•Thursday’s touchdown was intended to collect pristine materials from beneath the surface of the asteroid that could provide insights into what the solar system was like at its birth, some 4.6 billion years ago.

•To get at those crucial materials, in April an “impactor” was fired from Hayabusa2 towards Ryugu in a risky process that created a crater on the asteroid’s surface and stirred up material that had not previously been exposed to the atmosphere.

•Hayabusa2’s first touchdown was in February, when it landed briefly on Ryugu and fired a bullet into the surface to puff up dust for collection, before blasting back to its holding position.

•The second touchdown required special preparations because any problems could mean the probe would lose the precious materials already gathered during its first landing. A photo of the crater taken by Hayabusa2’s camera after the April blast showed that parts of the asteroid’s surface are covered with materials that are “obviously different” from the rest of the surface, mission manager Makoto Yoshikawa told reporters before the latest touchdown.

•Scientists are hoping the probe will have collected unidentified materials believed to be “ejecta” from the blast after landing briefly in an area some 20 metres away from the centre of the crater.

•“It would be safe to say that extremely attractive materials are near the crater,” Mr. Tsuda said.

•The touchdown is the last major part of Hayabusa2’s mission, and when the probe returns to Earth next year to drop off its samples, scientists hope to learn more about the history of the solar system and even the origin of life on Earth.

Musical tribute

•The Hayabusa2 mission has attracted international attention, with Queen guitarist and astrophysicist Brian May sending a video to the probes team ahead of the landing.

•“The world is watching. We love you, take care Hayabusa2,” the musician told the team.

•Hayabusa2 is the successor to JAXA’s first asteroid explorer, Hayabusa — Japanese for falcon — that returned with dust samples from a smaller, potato-shaped asteroid in 2010. It was hailed as a scientific triumph despite various setbacks during its epic seven-year odyssey.

•The Hayabusa2 mission was launched in December 2014, and has a price tag of around $270 million.