The HINDU Notes – 22nd August 2019 - VISION

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Thursday, August 22, 2019

The HINDU Notes – 22nd August 2019





📰 State-breaking is not nation making

In the J&K demotion, every code, principle and constitutional sanction protecting federalism has been violated

•In India most linguistic and ethnic groups aspire for a State of their own. Militants have taken up arms against the government and against other groups to achieve this particular objective. It is, therefore, astonishing that the abrogation of Article 370 guaranteed by the Constitution, and the downgrading of the State of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), are being hailed and celebrated. It is surprising that the Telangana Government which secured its State through popular mobilisation, voted for a Bill that dismembered J&K. It is shocking that the Chief Minister of Delhi, Arvind Kejriwal, who battles for statehood, also voted in favour of the Bill, as did the regional party in Odisha, the Biju Janata Dal.

•Regional parties should be wary of a Central government that tampers with their State. The Government has now the power to demote any State for whatever reason. An unfortunate precedent has been set. Every code, every principle, every constitutional sanction protecting federalism has been violated by the Central government that relentlessly implements a myopic agenda. In the process no one asks, why not Article 370 that grants regional autonomy? For regional autonomy is indispensable for India’s plural and complex society.

Issue of co-existence

•This lesson was hammered into political consciousness by events that followed the collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1989. Countries melted away and a number of new States emerged out of the debris of old ones often through processes of civil war, ethnic cleansing and genocide. As the world saw a rush of State-breaking and State-making, a new lease of life was infused into dormant separatist movements. Some examples were the Nagas and the Bodos in India, the Chechens in Russia, separatist movements in Azerbaijan (Nagorno-Karabakh) and Moldova (Trans-Dniester), Baluchistan in Pakistan, West Papua in Indonesia, the Oromos and the Somalis in the Ethiopia-Somali region, the Kurds in Turkey, Sudan, the Tamils in Sri Lanka, South Ossetia and Abkhazia in Georgia, and the rise of protest politics in the Kashmir Valley. Regional elites in Canada, the United Kingdom and Europe, such as Quebec, Scotland, Catalonia, the Basque country and Corsica continue to demand independence, off and on. The spate of ethnic cleansing and genocide has prompted scholars to raise the question: how can we ensure that people who speak different languages, worship different gods, and follow different belief systems coexist in a plural society?

Kernel of identity

•On balance, scholars agreed that federalism is the best answer to the question of co-existence. Federalism has since long been offered as an antidote to the centralisation of power, which results in a democratic deficit in large and multicultural societies. Decentralisation and regional autonomy ensure responsive governance, fiscal prudence and efficiency as well as popular participation. But in the 1990s, scholars realised that individuals do not only seek economic benefits. Individuals need to have an identity; they need community whether that of language, or religion, or memory, or shared traditions.

•Certainly, some people identify strongly with their community, others identify weakly, and still others move on and adopt the meaning systems of another community. But most of the time, most of us, are intimately attached to the community of birth. For it is from here that we learn the first alphabet of a language that teaches us how to live with people who are like us, and people who are not like us. The alphabet of this language simply allows us to make sense of ourselves, our worlds, and of our relationships with others. If community is so crucial to the fact of being human, individuals should be assured secure access to their community.

•Neither the state nor society should harm my community. By harming my community through perverse imaging and acts of violence, you harm me, you harm a citizen of India. Human beings without community are lesser human beings, homeless, wanderers searching for belonging on a road that has no signboards. That is why the loss of community breeds trauma; it leads to struggle, it can even result in civil war. Across the world we see two kinds of struggle, the struggle for material resources, and the struggle for identity. The latter has led to some of the most bitter conflicts in human history.

•The one institution that threatens community is the nation state. This is considered one of the major mistakes of history. Nations do not emerge as fully-fashioned entities; they are created by states through flattening out of diverse languages, religions, cultures, through conscription, through education, and through coercion. Attempts by States in the post-colonial world to forge nations out of diverse populations have resulted in tremendous harm. In Sri Lanka, the official estimate was that under 7,000 people were killed, and 72,000 civilians were displaced from their homes by the Sri Lankan Army, as well as by the secessionist group, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, in the last phase of the civil war, between January 2009 and May 2009 alone. But this ran counter to data by experts at the United Nations which estimated that as many as 40,000 civilians, if not more, lost their lives.

•Thousands of innocent people died as a result of suicide bombings, grenade explosions, attacks on government buildings and installations, indiscriminate murders, assassinations, arson and crossfire. In 1971, when East Pakistan declared itself independent of Pakistan, an estimated 3 million people died in the war between the new state of Bangladesh and the parent country. About 8 to 10 million were rendered homeless. In another historical context, A.E. Housman had written: “They say my verse is sad: no wonder, Its narrow measure spans, Tears of eternity and sorrow, Not mine, but man’s.” These lines may well provide the epigraph of the nation state.

Regional autonomy

•The homogenising impulse of the nation state generates resistance. These are political wars; they cannot be resolved by military means. The only way to stem, to ward off disorder and the innumerable tragedies mayhem spawns is to strengthen federalism. A decentralised political system enables participation. It also protects minority identities. This was the precise logic that governed the linguistic reorganisation of States in India in the 1950s. This was the precise logic that gave to J&K, along with other constituent States of the Indian federal system, regional autonomy.

•Mature democracies do not steamroller diversity or oppress minorities. They understand that diverse cultures expand and enrich our grasp of the complexities, and the dilemmas of the human condition. A monochromatic society is, by definition, soulless and bare. Stripped of the excitement of learning new languages, acquaintance with new values, familiarity with new cuisines, literature, music, art, sculpture, and ways of conceiving the world, life becomes dull. Life in a plural society promises adventure.

•The best way to protect diversity is through the grant of regional autonomy. If we abolish diversity we land up with a sense of longing, loss, and ultimately resentment. Kashmir’s greatest contemporary poet, Agha Shahid Ali, who died at 52, powerfully captures this sense of loss and longing in his poem, ‘A Wrong Turn’: “In my dream I am always in a massacred town, its name/erased from maps/no road signs to it/Only a wrong turn brings me here....” Imagine what happens to a people when they lose Statehood. They become refugees in their own land, the land of their ancestors, the land of their memories, the land of their traditions. We have rootless individuals on our hands. They can go in any direction.

📰 Data on demonetisation's link to economic slowdown may have been suppressed

Task force report may have provided factual evidence for the debilitating impact of demonetisation on the formal corporate sector

•Was a task force report that recommended a new law to replace the more than 50-year-old Income Tax Act, 1961 suppressed because it inadvertently provided factual evidence for the debilitating impact of demonetisation on the formal corporate sector?

•On September 1-2, 2017, at the Rajaswa Gyan Sangam (an annual conference of senior tax administrators), Prime Minister Narendra Modi had made an observation regarding the need to redraft the Income Tax Act, 1961. The Union Finance Ministry set the ball rolling for making direct taxes (on personal and corporate incomes) simple and in consonance with India’s economic needs. On November 22, 2017, it appointed a six-member ‘Task Force for drafting a New Direct Tax Legislation’.

•On September 26, 2018, however, an office memorandum was issued “with the approval of the Finance Minister”, requesting the task force’s convenor “not to submit its report to the Government until and unless the Draft prepared by the Convenor of the Task Force is deliberated clause by clause by all Members of the Task Force and has agreement of all Members or at least majority of Members”.

•The convenor, an Indian Revenue Service officer and the former Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT) Member (Legislation) Arbind Modi, who was closely involved earlier with tax reforms by the A. B. Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh governments, was to superannuate on September 30, 2018. No extension was given for complying with the office memorandum.

•The convenor, nevertheless, submitted “four volumes in sealed cover of the report and draft legislation” to the Finance Minister and the Finance Secretary on September 28, 2018 “for continuity” and “record purposes”.

•In November 2018, the Finance Ministry appointed Akhilesh Ranjan, the new Member (Legislation), CBDT, to succeed Mr. Modi as the task force convenor. Mr. Ranjan submitted his report to the Finance Minister on August 19, 2019.

Demonetisation’s blow

•Drawing insights from the tax department’s database of annual tax returns filed by corporate firms and individuals, Mr. Arbind Modi’s report had proposed two alternative approaches along with draft legislations corresponding to each of the models for a new direct taxes law.

•The chapter on reform proposals for corporate taxes has a table (page 109, Volume I) that makes for a significant piece of evidence for how demonetisation may have affected companies. The table shows aggregates of investments corporate firms disclosed in their annual tax return filings.

•The aggregate of investments disclosed in the assessment year 2017-18, or financial year 2016-17, the demonetisation year, plummeted to ₹4,25,051 crore — or a drop of nearly 60% from the previous year.

•In the seven financial years, from 2010-11 to 2016-17, the aggregates of investments disclosed were ₹11,72,550 crore, ₹9,25,010 crore, ₹10,22,376 crore, ₹11,03,969 crore, ₹9,98,056 crore, ₹10,33,847 crore and ₹4,25,051 crore. The near collapse becomes apparent when the aggregates are seen as a percentage of the GDP. The investments by corporate firms that filed annual returns in each of the years from 2010-11 to 2016-17 as a percentage of GDP were 15%, 10.5%, 10.2%, 9.8%, 9%, 7.5% and 2.7%.

•The aggregate figures are actuals (therefore nominals) sourced from companies’ statutory disclosures, and not the estimates or findings of some survey. This in fact makes the data undeniable evidence of demonetisation’s contribution to the deepening economic slowdown that has become a headache for the Modi government early in its second tenure.




•The report throws up a few more worrying trends. For example, on page 115, Volume I, the report notes: “About 50 percent of the companies registered with the Registrar of Companies filed their income tax returns for the financial year 2016-17 (assessment year 2017-18)”

•“Of the 7,80,216 companies which filed their tax returns for AY 2017-18, 45.94 percent of corporate filers reported book losses”

•“The share of loss-making companies has increased from 42 percent in AY 2013-14 to 45 percent in AY 2017-18”

•“There has been a decline in the number of corporate filers from the manufacturing sector over the period AY 2013-14 to AY 2017-18”

•“The share of manufacturing in the profits before taxes has marginally declined from 47.3 percent in AY 2013-14 to 46.4 percent in AY 2017-18”

•“The return on equity declined from 16.4 percent in AY 2013-14 to 15.5 percent in AY 2015-16 and thereafter has reversed the trend and increased to 16.5 percent in AY 2017-18”

•“The corporate tax liability increased from 19 percent of gross internal accruals in AY 2013-14 to 21 percent in AY 2017-18”

•“The DDT [Dividend Distribution Tax] liability increased from 1 percent of gross internal accruals in AY 2013-14 to 2 percent in AY 2017-18”

•“The efficiency (productivity) of the corporate tax, which shows the policy choices regarding tax concessions and the overall levels of non-compliance, is extremely low at 7.5 percent over the period AY 2013-14 to 2017-18. Compared to other select economies, India’s productivity of corporate income tax is the lowest”.

•“In each of the years since AY 2013-14, the profit making companies had substantially more retained earnings (gross internal accruals minus tax liability) than the investments made during the year”

•“Given the limited fiscal space available to the Government, economic growth would necessarily have to be driven by private investment…. [but] corporate investments have remained virtually stagnant despite the availability of sufficient retained earnings”.

GDP growth estimates

•In the report, the trend in aggregate corporate investments figures corresponds to the investment slowdown discernible in the official GDP estimates for 2011-12 onwards. However, the investments aggregate figure for 2016-17 brings into question the GDP growth estimate for the demonetisation year. In the latest round of scheduled revisions, the government had revised upwards the 2016-17 GDP growth estimate, from 7.1% to 8.2%.

•As per the revised estimate, the demonetisation year, is the best in the Modi government’s first tenure as far as GDP growth is concerned. This when, nearly every industry association (from traders, consumer durables to cement manufacturers) reported sharp drops in sales that year on account of the note ban.

•The revised estimate defies common sense and runs contrary to comparable data generated by non-government agencies and, as it turns out now, also corporate annual returns tax return filings.

•The Finance Ministry has so far not made public the task force reports (the one submitted on September 28, 2018 and the other on August 19, 2019). It remains to be seen whether it will put out the first one for public discussion. Or, if the second one, likely to be made public in due course, will retain the data from the corporate annual tax returns that threaten to expose the role of demonetisation in hurting the economy beyond the informal segment.

•Earlier, the government had initially held back and even challenged the validity of the National Sample Survey Office’s (NSSO) periodic labour force survey results even after the National Statistical Commission had duly cleared the findings. The results — that the unemployment rate reached a 45-year high in 2017-18, the demonetisation year — were politically inconvenient. The findings were subsequently only released after the completion of the 2019 elections.

📰 Content management: On Aadhaar-social media linkage

Courts must let government work out a balanced regulatory regime for online content

•The submissions in the Supreme Court on behalf of the Tamil Nadu government in support of linking social media profiles of registered users with their Aadhaar numbers are not well-founded in the law as it now stands. It is noteworthy that a Division Bench of the Madras High Court, which is hearing two writ petitions on this matter, did not see merit in the idea. The Bench had during the hearings observed that following the Supreme Court’s decision in the Aadhaar case, the unique 12-digit-number can be used only for subsidies and welfare benefits; and pointed out that Section 57 of the Aadhaar Act has been struck down to the extent that it authorised body corporate and individuals to use the number to establish someone’s identity. The petitioners had approached the High Court with such a prayer on the ground that many people got away with inflammatory posts on social media because of the lack of traceability. However, the Bench has since then expanded the writ petitions’ scope to examine the adequacy of the legal framework on cybercrimes and the responsibilities of intermediaries who provide telecommunication and online services. The State government is batting for better assistance from intermediaries and social media companies to trace offending messages. As two other High Courts are also hearing similar matters, Facebook, WhatsApp and Twitter have sought a transfer of all these cases to the apex court so that there are no conflicting judgments.

•While the Supreme Court will decide the question of transferring these cases to itself, the Madras High Court will continue its hearing. A word of caution. The Union Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology notified new draft rules for intermediaries last year and called for public comments. The proposed rules envisage new obligations for service providers. One of the changes proposed is that intermediaries should help identify originators of offensive content. This has created some understandable misgivings at a time when there is widespread suspicion about online surveillance. Technology companies that use end-to-end encryption have pleaded inability to open a back door for identifying originators. The issue concerns the global policy of these companies as well as the wider public interest of millions of registered users. After the K.S. Puttaswamy decision (2017) in the ‘privacy’ case, any state intervention in the regulation of online content has to pass the test of proportionality laid down by the court. It will be desirable if courts do not impart needless urgency to the process of introducing a balanced regulatory regime to curb content that promotes undesirable activities such as child pornography, sectarian conflict and mob violence, without affecting individual privacy. The balance must be right between protecting privacy and allowing the state leeway to curb crime.

📰 Kashmir situation 'a lot to do with religion', will do my best to mediate, says Donald Trump

Will do my best to mediate in the issue, the U.S. President says.

•U.S. President Donald Trump said he would do his best to mediate or help somehow with the tensions between India and Pakistan over Kashmir.

•Mr. Trump drew attention to the fact that he had spoken to the Prime Ministers of both countries on Monday and that he would be meeting Prime Minister Modi in Biarritz, France, for the G7 summit over the weekend. He stopped short of directly saying that he would discuss the Kashmir issue with Mr. Modi over the weekend.

•“I get along really well with both of them. As you know, Prime Minister Khan was here just recently. And I was with ... I’m going to be with Prime Minister Modi. I’ll be with him over the weekend in France,” he said.

•“I think we’re helping the situation. But there’s [sic] tremendous problems between those two countries, as you know. And I will do the best I can to mediate or do something,” Mr. Trump said on Tuesday afternoon in the Oval Office in the presence of Romanian President Klaus Iohannis prior to their bilateral meeting.

•“Great relationship with both of them [ Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan], but they are not exactly friends at this moment. Complicated situation. A lot has to do with religion. Religion is a complicated subject,” Mr. Trump added. The segment of his comments on Kashmir also included his version of a history of the region.

•“Well, they’ve been having this ... these talks for hundreds of years, even under different names. But this is ... but it’s Kashmir. And Kashmir is a very complicated place. You have the Hindus and you have the Muslims, and I wouldn’t say they get along so great. And that’s what you have right now,” Mr. Trump said, calling the situation “very explosive”.

•The U.S. has been concerned about the risk of a nuclear confrontation between India and Pakistan — concerns that have especially been stressed since the terror attack in Pulwama on February 14 and the ensuing hostilities between the two countries. The U.S. also seeks Pakistan’s cooperation in ensuring that a peace deal is struck with the Taliban and the U.S. can begin withdrawing from Afghanistan.

📰 Sacrificing liberty for national security

The Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Amendment Act could prove catastrophic for fundamental rights

•In Parliament this month, former Union Minister P. Chidambaram questioned the need for certain amendments to the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), 1967. The Bill empowers the Central government to name any individual a terrorist if it believes him or her to be so.

Arguments in Parliament

•Mr. Chidambaram said, “We [the Congress] are opposing the mischievous amendment which has empowered the Central government to name an individual [as a terrorist]... The real mischief is in Section 35 subsection (2)... as amended reads: The Central government shall exercise its power under Clause (a) of sub-section (1) in respect of an organisation or an individual only if it believes [that] such [an] organisation or individual is involved in terrorism... There is no FIR. There is no charge sheet. There are no charges framed. There is no trial in a court. There is no conviction... What is the basis in which you will name an individual? Only because you believe he’s involved in terrorism... My worry is, who you are going to name first? Don’t compare Hafiz Saeed with Gautam Navlakha. My worry is there’s a close parallel between sedition and unlawful activity. In Bhima Koregaon... all the accused... are all activists… I believe that none of them advocates violence. If you name somebody only because you believe he is involved in terrorism, that day none of us can sleep in peace.”




•Defending the amendment, Home Minister Amit Shah said: “This Act is to fight terror and has no other purpose... Chidambaramji asked why name an individual as a terrorist when the organisation he is affiliated to is already banned. It is because we ban one organisation, another one comes up by the same individual. Till when will we keep banning organisations?”

•The above parliamentary exchange mirrors the uneasiness of the powerless when confronted by the seemingly righteous indignation expressed by governments seeking increased powers to deal with disaffection and anarchy. Governments keep asserting that they bear no malice, but only seek to keep the country united against existential threats. Those in Opposition are wary of laying the citizen’s liberties at the feet of the great man of the day.

•The UAPA was passed by the Indira Gandhi government. Its political justification then was to deal with the secessionist utterances of the Dravidian movement. During the 1962 war, the Communist Party blamed Jawaharlal Nehru and did not wholeheartedly support the Indian troops. In 1966, Hindu Sadhus protesting against cow slaughter marched in front of Parliament. It was against this backdrop that an unlawful activity was defined as “any action taken... (i) which is intended, or supports any claim, to bring about, on any ground whatsoever, the cession of a part of the territory of India or the secession of a part of the territory of India from the Union, or which incites any individual or group of individuals to bring about such cession or secession; or (ii) which disclaims, questions, disrupts or is intended to disrupt the sovereignty and territorial integrity of India; or (iii) which causes or is intended to cause disaffection against India.”

•In his speech in Parliament during the no-confidence motion of July 1993, Atal Bihari Vajpayee recalled, “When the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Bill was presented in the House in 1967, I was a member of the House... A grand debate was held that time. Shri Yashwant Rao Chavan went on assuring the Members that it would not be applied against them. He gave an assurance that the Government was seeking a right to take action against those who wanted to disintegrate the country. I too delivered my speech. I started [sic] my apprehension that the Government would involve all the opposition parties in the name of so-called cause of integrity and declare the opposition as unlawful. Those who would be declared unlawful would go underground. You want to stop the unlawful activities, but how can you stop these activities, you have the option to arrest them; but are you making arrests that can win the battle of thoughts?”

•It is pertinent to mention that when Vajpayee was speaking thus, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh itself had been declared unlawful under the UAPA by a notification of December 10, 1992. Despite his apprehensions in 1967, Vajpayee and other individual members of banned organisations were not arrested solely on grounds of being a member of such an organisation.

•Today, however, the UAPA is not confined only to cases of secessionist organisations. It has now been extended to cases of terrorism too. After two draconian anti-terrorist legislation — the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act and the Prevention of Terrorism Act — were repealed due to repeated misuse by law enforcement authorities, the UAPA was amended in 2004 to bring into its fold cases of terrorism. A large list of organisations such as the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, the Hizbul Mujahideen and the Khalistan Commando Force have been included in the schedule to the UAPA as banned organisations. Most of these bans are not challenged, and judicial tribunals have upheld the imposition of such bans from time to time.

•Banning an organisation renders its members vulnerable to prosecution. Other than imprisonment, consequences include loss of property linked to terrorism. To avoid such drastic results, a member of such an organisation may prove that he or she has not interacted with the organisation after the ban order. The organisation itself may challenge the notification in a judicial tribunal.

No defences

•All these defences will vanish if an individual is notified as a terrorist. No link to any organisation needs to be proved. What is worse is that people consorting in any manner with a notified individual can also be roped in under the Act. The Act itself is broadly framed, to sweep in all kinds of suspect organisations. The same looseness of language when applied to an individual can be catastrophic at the level of his fundamental rights. Almost any utterance on social media these days can be construed as one “which causes or is intended to cause disaffection against India”.

•The Act itself carries no safeguards against its misuse at an individual level. A judicial determination at a later stage is scant solace to a man in danger of losing liberty and his house for being associated with someone who has been designated as a terrorist under the Act. The die has been cast, however. Despite Mr. Chidambaram’s arguments, his party ended up ensuring the passage of the amendment. At the end of the day, the Congress and the BJP have together sacrificed individual liberties at the altar of national security. Benjamin Franklin said: “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.” Indians deserve better respect for their liberties than this ill-thought-out parliamentary misadventure.

📰 The ‘Kerala Model’ is unsustainable

Over the years, parties have responded to commercial interests over the welfare of people

•In 2018 Kerala was overwhelmed by an unprecedented natural event. Flooding combined with landslides caused many deaths. Floods were not new to Kerala, which receives high rainfall. What was new compared to the times of equally high rainfall in the early part of the last century was the flooding due to inept dam management and the vulnerability of the terrain induced by the pattern of land use. In 2019 we have seen some of this repeated. This year it is the landslides that have caused most deaths. They are a relatively recent phenomenon, pointing to the role of uncontrolled economic expansion.

•Man-made factors leading to devastation point to the unsustainability of the so-called ‘Kerala Model’, a term used to describe the economic policy underpinning the State’s recent growth and development history. Lauded for the high human development indicators it is believed to have bestowed upon the State, this construct contributed to a self-congratulatory discourse within the power elite. Based on the pertinent observation of Amartya Sen that the State seemed to have attained high social development at a relatively low level of income by comparison to the rest of India, it was soon appropriated by the political class including artists and intellectuals who collaborate with state power. Any lack of enthusiasm was greeted with intolerance, similar to what ultra-nationalists display today when challenged on their claims about India.

Many failures

•Criticism of the Kerala Model has been based on its several failures. The foremost is the inability to meet the employment aspirations of the people, pushing them to live under authoritarian regimes overseas. Second, the laudable public provision of health and education has been financed by borrowing. Kerala has the highest per capita public debt among States, implying that we are passing on the bill for our own maintenance to future generations. Finally, Kerala has not done so well when viewed through the lens of gender justice. High levels of female education have not led to an equally high participation of women in the labour force or in governance, even though they participate equally in elections.

•Two consecutive years of a natural calamity exacerbated by human action are a revelation that the Kerala Model has run its course. The extraordinary events that we have witnessed this year range from fountains sprouting out of the earth due to the hitherto unknown ‘water piping’ to constructed structures shifting, physical phenomena not yet widely understood. There has been overbuilding in Kerala, with absentee owners having invested in luxury houses they do not always occupy. As a result poorer households are crowded out of safe locations on the plains to precarious ones on the hills.

Relaxing rules

•Public policy has failed miserably to regulate land use including rampant quarrying, which destabilises the earth’s surface, with political patronage. Truth is that public policy is part of the problem. The floodgates were opened in 2015 when the Congress party did away with environmental clearance for quarries in existence for three years. Then in 2017 the Pinarayi Vijayan government relaxed the rules for quarrying further. It also weakened the provisions of the legislation governing conversion of agricultural land into construction sites. The rice paddies had both produced food and served as gargantuan sinks for rainwater. Kerala’s principal political parties, irrespective of their ideologies, have responded to commercial interests over the welfare of ordinary people.

•To come out of this morass the people of Kerala would have to rely on themselves. They need to acknowledge that their consumption pattern must change as it has adversely impacted the natural environment, the consequences of which have begun to hurt them. In this task they are unlikely to be guided by the State’s politicians and intellectuals who led them into this cul-de-sac in the first place.

📰 Fossils show Kutch desert was once a forest

The fossils, consisting mostly of ribs, and parts of teeth and bones, were unearthed from Palasava village of Rapar taluk in Kutch, Gujarat.

•The hot arid desert of Kutch was once a humid sub-tropical forest with a variety of birds, freshwater fish and possibly giraffes and rhinos, a team of Indian and French researchers has said.

•Their conclusions are based on the discovery of a tranche of vertebrate fossils from nearly 14 million years ago in a geological time period known as the Miocene. After the discovery, they took nearly 12 years for analysis.

•The fossils, consisting mostly of ribs, and parts of teeth and bones, were unearthed from Palasava village of Rapar taluk in Kutch, Gujarat.

•“Overall, the fossil finds from Palasava suggest that a rich diversity of fauna and flora sustained in warm, humid/wet, tropical to sub-tropical environmental conditions during the Middle Miocene (about 14 Mya),” the research team of Vivesh V. Kapur, Martin Pickford, Gaurav Chauhan and M.G. Thakkar reported in the peer-reviewed journal Historical Biology.

•The bulk of fossils unearthed in Kutch have so far been mainly marine organisms, due to their proximity to the Arabian Sea. Geological changes eventually closed off the salt-flats’ connection to the sea and the region turned into a large lake, eventually becoming salty wetlands.

•The findings point to clues on how mammals dispersed between Africa and the Indian subcontinent when part of India was in the Gondwanaland supercontinent that existed nearly 300 million years ago.

•“It is surprising that Kutch had giraffes, rhinos, elephants and giant crocodiles in a closed basin in the Miocene,” M.G. Thakkar, a senior scientist at the K.S.K.V. Kachchh University told The Hindu.

•Palaeontologist G.V.R. Prasad of Delhi University said that the finds were significant because they showed Kutch to be a potential treasure trove of mammal fossils with possible continuity to vertebrate fossils in the Siwalik, spanning Pakistan to Nepal.

📰 Centre to ease approval process for mining leases

Mining law to be amended

•The Centre is planning to scrap the need for State governments to take an approval from the Centre prior to granting a mining lease to companies, Union Coal Secretary Sumanta Chaudhuri said.

•Kicking off a stakeholder consultation process on coal sector issues, he said this would be among the government’s initiatives to speed up operationalisation of coal mines.

•“This single move, to be effected through an amendment in Parliament, will reduce the entire process by around a year,” Mr. Chaudhuri said, talking to reporters on the sidelines of a FICCI meeting.

•Currently, before granting a mining lease, the State Governments are required to put the proposed project, through a process called ‘prior approval’ under which it had to file an application with the Centre seeking its nod for a project for which clearances had been already granted.

•“State-level clearances are necessary but this (prior approval) amounts to duplication and time wastage,” Mr. Chaudhuri said, adding that although since 2014, about 80 allocations were auctioned or nominated for coal mining “the conversion to production has not been great.. there was need to find ways to correct it”, he said.

•Former Coal India Ltd. chairman P. S. Bhattacharyya said as steps are taken for import-substitution and correction of structural issues in power sector, the coal sector needs to gear up for meeting an additional demand of 400—425 million tonnes per annum (MTPA) beyond the usual growth, including commissioning of power capacities in the pipeline, that can be met by securing incremental coal production of 40 — 50 MTPA between CIL and SCCL.

•Mr. Chaudhuri said that among the several measures being taken to hasten coal projects in the pipeline was allowing the sale of 25% of coal in case of allocation of specified end-use plants.

•Ashish Upadhyaya Joint Secretary, Union Coal Ministry, said this would boost the profitability of the firms implementing the projects.

•The government is pursuing a carrot-and-stick policy by promoting ease-of-doing business on the one-hand and strict implementation of existing rules, on the other.

•“There was reluctance on the part of the allottees to go the extra mile to operationalise mines as they continue to have coal linkages,” Mr. Chaudhuri noted.

•He said moves was afoot to bring in more players in coal exploration, in addition to Coal Mine Planning and Design Institute Ltd. “We may do this through the process of empanelling or accrediting some agencies to do the job if they have the requisite technology and expertise,” he remarked later.

•The Centre plans to auction within this year 46 coal blocks with a total annual capacity of 100 million tonnes. Hoping to attract more players and operationalise the existing mines, the Coal Ministry is promoting ease-of-doing-business while also holding a series of such meetings in coal-bearing States starting with West Bengal.



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