The HINDU Notes – 26th August 2019 - VISION

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Monday, August 26, 2019

The HINDU Notes – 26th August 2019

📰 Manmohan Singh set to lose SPG cover

Manmohan Singh set to lose SPG cover
Decision taken after review involving the Cabinet Secretariat and the Ministry of Home Affairs with inputs from intelligence agencies.

•The Narendra Modi government is likely to withdraw the Special Protection Group (SPG) from former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s security detail shortly, according to several sources.

•The decision, reportedly taken after a three-month review involving the Cabinet Secretariat and the Ministry of Home Affairs with inputs from intelligence agencies the Research and Analysis Wing and the Intelligence Bureau has not yet been formally communicated in writing, but was “orally” conveyed to the former Prime Minister, the sources confirmed to The Hindu.

•This would mean that the elite protection force of about 3,000 officers meant for the Prime Ministers, the former Prime Ministers and their families would now be tasked with protecting only Mr. Modi, Congress president Sonia Gandhi and her children Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra.

•According to an official privy to the development, who asked not to be identified, the government had, according to the procedures laid down by the SPG Act, 1988, renewed Dr. Singh’s SPG detail for a year after he demitted office in 2014, and subsequently, on an annual basis after reviewing the threats faced by him and his wife Gursharan Kaur. (Dr. Singh’s daughters, who were also eligible, had given up SPG cover voluntarily in 2014).

•However, on May 25 this year, the government decided not to fully renew the SPG cover, and instead ordered a three-month review process, which ended on Sunday. Dr. Singh’s SPG unit was also told about the decision and asked to await a final decision. “I can confirm that the government has informed Dr. Singh that he is no longer eligible for SPG protection,” another well-informed source said, adding that this was conveyed by a senior intelligence official directly to the former Prime Minister. However, no written order had been sent as yet, and the 200-plus strong SPG force at Dr. Singh’s Motilal Nehru Place residence in Delhi remains in place, indicating that there may yet be a change in decision.

•The Hindu contacted several government agencies, including the Cabinet Secretariat, the Ministry of Home Affairs and intelligence agencies, in order to prepare this report, but received no official response. Dr. Singh also declined to comment on the development.

•Plans for the move raised some eyebrows within the security establishment. One official said that while the government was technically within the law to withdraw SPG protection to any former Prime Minister, it had chosen not to do so for Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who demitted office in 2004 and had SPG protection until he passed away in 2018. A prolonged illness had kept Vajpayee home-bound for the past decade. Dr. Singh is more “exposed” as he frequently travels. for political engagements and was just re-elected a member of the Rajya Sabha, the official explained.

•A retired SPG officer said the SPG cover would only be reduced on the basis of threat levels as defined in the SPG Act of 1988. “No govt. in power would take the risk of scaling down security without analysing the threat perception closely. No govt. would like to be discredited in taking a decision purely for political considerations,” he said, citing former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination, which brought much criticism to his successor V.P. Singh, whose government had withdrawn Mr. Gandhi’s SPG protection.

•The SPG was set up in 1985 after the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, and Parliament passed the SPG Act in 1988 dedicating the group to protecting the Prime Minister of India. At the time, the Act did not include former Prime Ministers, and when V.P. Singh came to power in 1989 his government withdrew SPG protection to the outgoing PM Rajiv Gandhi. After Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated in 1991 the SPG Act was amended, offering SPG protection to all former Prime Ministers and their families for a period of at least 10 years.

•During his tenure that began in 1999, PM Vajpayee’s government conducted a major review of the SPG’s operations, and decided to withdraw SPG protection to former PMs P.V. Narasimha Rao, H.D. Deve Gowda, and I.K. Gujral. In 2003, the Vajpayee government also amended the SPG Act to bring the period of automatic protection down from 10 years to “a period of one year from the date on which the former Prime Minister ceased to hold office and beyond one year based on the level of threat as decided by the Central Government.”

📰 Shock at G7 summit as Iran's Foreign Minister lands in Biarritz

White House terms France’s invitation to Mohammad Javad Zarif was “surprise”.

•Iran's foreign minister flew into the French resort hosting a G7 summit on August 25, an unexpected twist to a meeting already troubled by differences between U.S. President Donald Trump and Western allies over a raft of issues, including Iran.

•Mohammad Javad Zarif was holding talks with his French counterpart to assess what conditions could lead to a de-escalation of tension between Tehran and Washington, a French official said.

•The French official said that at this stage there was no plan for Zarif to meet members of U.S. President Donald Trump's delegation at the summit venue, the Basque beachside town of Biarritz in southwest France.

•Iranian U.N. mission spokesman Alireza Miryousefi posted on Twitter: “No meeting with Americans in Biarritz.”

•Asked about reports of Mr. Zarif's arrival at Biarritz, which had been closed for the Saturday-Monday summit of the seven industrialised nations, Mr. Trump said: “No comment”.

•A White House official said France's invitation to Mohammad Javad Zarif for talks on the sidelines of the meeting in the Basque beachside town of Biarritz was “a surprise”, and there were no immediate plans for U.S. officials to meet him.

•European leaders have struggled to calm a deepening confrontation between Iran and the United States since Mr. Trump pulled his country out of Iran's internationally brokered 2015 nuclear deal and reimposed sanctions on the Iranian economy.

•Earlier on August 25 at the summit, Mr. Trump appeared to brush aside French efforts to mediate with Iran, saying that while he was happy for Paris to reach out to Tehran to defuse tensions he would carry on with his own initiatives.

•France said G7 leaders had agreed President Emmanuel Macron should hold talks and pass on messages to Iran. However, Mr. Trump, who has pushed a maximum pressure policy on Iran, distanced himself from the proposal, saying he had not even discussed it.

•Mr. Macron, who has taken the lead in trying to defuse tensions, fearing that a collapse of the nuclear deal could set the Middle East ablaze, met Mr. Zarif on Friday. The aim was to discuss plans to ease the crisis, including reducing some U.S. sanctions or providing Iran with an economic compensation mechanism.

A difficult dinner

•Mr. Trump insisted that he was getting along well with leaders at a G7 summit in France, but rifts emerged with his Western allies on issues ranging from his trade war with China to Iran, North Korea and Russia.

•The G7 gathering is taking place against a backdrop of worries about a global economic downturn and coincides with an era of international disunity across an array of matters.

•“Before I arrived in France, the Fake and Disgusting News was saying that relations with the 6 other countries in the G7 are very tense, and that the two days of meetings will be a disaster,” Mr. Trump wrote on Twitter shortly before meeting new British Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

•“Well, we are having very good meetings, the Leaders are getting along very well, and our Country, economically, is doing great - the talk of the world!”

•Tensions were quickly on show, however, as the first full day of talks between the leaders of Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States got underway in the Basque coast resort of Biarritz in southwest France.

Trump’s call

•Before leaving Washington, Mr. Trump stepped up his tariff war with Beijing in a battle between the world’s two largest economies that has spooked financial markets, and called on U.S. companies to move out of China.

•Britain’s Johnson voiced concern on Saturday about creeping protectionism and said those who support tariffs “are at risk of incurring the blame for the downturn in the global economy.” Sitting across from Mr. Trump on Sunday, he said: “We’re in favour of trade peace on the whole, and dialling it down if we can.” Asked if he was being pressed by allies to relent in his standoff with China, Mr. Trump said: “I think they respect the trade war.”

•Underlining the multilateral discord even before the summit got under way, Mr. Trump threatened the meeting’s host, saying Washington would tax French wine “like they’ve never seen before” unless Paris dropped a digital tax on U.S. technology companies.

•European Council President Donald Tusk, who takes part in the G7 discussions, warned the EU would respond “in kind” if Mr. Trump acted on his threat.

📰 Modi, Johnson agree to step up bilateral cooperation

Meeting comes after India ended special status for J&K

•Prime Minister Narendra Modi had a “good” meeting with his British counterpart Boris Johnson here on Sunday and they discussed ways to strengthen bilateral cooperation in areas like trade, investment, defence and education.

•Mr. Modi met Mr. Johnson on the sidelines of the G7 summit. The Prime Minister arrived in Biarritz from Manama, the capital of Bahrain after concluding the first-ever prime ministerial visit to the Gulf nation.

•“PM @narendramodi had a good meeting with UK PM @BorisJohnson on margins of #G7 summit. Discussions focused on strengthening our bilateral ties going forward, inter alia, in trade & investment, defence & security, S & T and education sectors,” Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Raveesh Kumar tweeted.

•“PM Modi begins by congratulating PM Johnson on England’s spectacular win in the Third Test of the Ashes a short while ago,” the Prime Minister’s Office tweeted earlier.

•This is the first meeting between the two leaders after Mr. Johnson became Prime Minister last month, the third in fairly quick succession since Britain voted to leave the EU in June 2016 - following on from David Cameron and Theresa May.

•Their meeting came against the backdrop of the Indian government revoking the special status to Jammu and Kashmir and bifurcating the State into two Union Territories.

•During a telephone call early this week, Mr. Johnson told Mr. Modi that Kashmir remains a bilateral matter between India and Pakistan as far as the UK’s view is concerned.

•“The Prime Minister made clear that the UK views the issue of Kashmir as one for India and Pakistan to resolve bilaterally. He underlined the importance of resolving issues through dialogue,” a Downing Street spokesperson said in an official readout of the phone call on Tuesday.

•Tensions between India and Pakistan spiked after India abrogated provisions of Article 370 of the Constitution to withdraw Jammu and Kashmir’s special status and bifurcated it into two Union Territories, evoking strong reactions from Pakistan.

•India has categorically told the international community that the scrapping of Article 370 was an internal matter and also advised Pakistan to accept the reality.

📰 PM Modi launches $4.2 mn redevelopment project of Hindu temple in Bahrain

•Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sunday launched the $4.2 million redevelopment project of the 200-year-old Sri Krishna temple in the Bahraini capital.

•Mr. Modi, the first Indian Prime Minister to visit the key Gulf nation, offered prayers at the Shreenathji Temple in Manama, the oldest temple in the region, and also the ‘prasad’ that he bought with the RuPay card after launching it in the UAE on Saturday.

•Prime Minister then unveiled the plaque, thus officially launching the redevelopment project of the iconic temple.

•"Thank you Bahrain for the warmth and affection. PM @narendramodi concludes his historic visit with prayers at the 200 years old Shreenathji Temple in #Manama, the oldest temple in the region. The temple reflects the pluralism of Bahraini society," External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said in a tweet.

•The facelift for the Shreenathji (Shree Krishna) temple in Manama will kick off later this year.

•The Mr. 4.2 million redevelopment project will be on a piece of land measuring 16,500 square feet and the new four-floor structure covering 45,000 square feet will have an overall height of 30 meters.

•The heritage and the 200-year-old legacy of the temple will be highlighted in the redevelopment and the new iconic complex will house the sanctum sanctorum and prayer halls.

•There are also facilities for traditional Hindu marriage ceremonies and other rituals, promoting Bahrain as a wedding destination and boosting tourism.

•Mr. Modi arrived here on Saturday, the first ever by an Indian Prime Minister to Bahrain.

📰 Under the cover of President’s Rule

Unless some limitations are read into the Centre’s role under Article 356, the designated powers of States are in peril

•The lynchpin of the government’s legal measures to declare Article 370 inoperative and reorganise Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) into two Union Territories is the Constitution (Application to Jammu and Kashmir) Order of August 5, 2019. However, the task was not accomplished by that Order alone. The Centre and Parliament also used the fact that the State was under President’s Rule to act on behalf of the State government and the State Assembly. This means that another principal source of the government’s power was the President’s proclamation issued on December 18, 2018, imposing Central rule.

•Much has been written about the constitutionality or otherwise of the two principal moves of the Centre: hollowing out Article 370 using the two-pronged mechanism referred to above, and downgrading the State into two Union Territories. One clear way to question and challenge the legality of the measures is to find out whether there are any limitations on the Centre or Parliament using the prevalence of President’s Rule to do anything that is not realistically possible to be done if there were a popularly elected legislature in a State.

Proviso suspension

•While assuming to himself the functions of the State government and Assembly under Article 356 of the Constitution, the President also suspends portions of the Constitution. One such suspended part is the proviso to Article 3 (this Article empowers Parliament to create or divide States and alter their boundaries). The proviso says the President must refer any proposal to alter a State’s name or boundaries to the State legislature for its views. It is an acknowledged fact that under the constitutional scheme, Parliament has overriding powers over the States in this matter. However, in respect of J&K, there is an additional proviso, one found only in the State’s own Constitution. This says J&K’s legislature has to give its consent to any altering of its boundaries or size or name. Significantly, the Presidential proclamation suspends the second proviso too.

•Consider the following: (a) the issuance, “with the State government’s concurrence”, of the Order of 2019, by which the Order of 1954 was superseded and the reference to ‘Constituent Assembly of Jammu and Kashmir’ was to be read as the ‘Legislative Assembly’ (b) the passage of a statutory resolution in Parliament recommending the declaration of Article 370 as inoperative (c) the adoption of a resolution accepting the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Bill, 2019 and, finally, (d) the issuance of a notification by the President on August 6 midnight, declaring Article 370 inoperative. All these were made legally and constitutionally possible only because the State was under President’s Rule and the President’s Proclamation under Article 356 provided for it.

•The legal fiction is that whatever Parliament or the President does in respect of J&K, it is the State Assembly or the State government that is actually doing it. How far should this legal fiction be allowed to prevail? Are there any legal limitations on this substitution of the State’s powers and functions with the Centre’s own, even if one concedes the wide amplitude of executive power under Article 356?

Extent of judicial intervention

•A presidential proclamation under Article 356 is subject to judicial review, going by the verdict of the nine-judge Bench of the Supreme Court in S.R. Bommai vs. Union of India (1994). However, the scope for judicial intervention is limited to the adequacy and relevance of the material on the basis of which the President comes to the subjective satisfaction that the governance of a State cannot be carried on in accordance with the Constitution. At the same time, the court read another limitation into the same Article. It said the initial exercise of the power is limited to taking over the executive and legislative functions without dissolving the Assembly. Once Parliament approves the proclamation, the Assembly may be dissolved.

•India’s quasi-federal Constitution is admittedly weighted in favour of the Centre, but the courts have always emphasised that, in their limited domain, States remain ‘supreme’. They are not “mere appendages of the Centre”. Notwithstanding the Centre taking over all the State government’s functions under Article 356, there are certain functions that the States alone can do. If these functions are allowed to be performed by the Centre in lieu of the State government or Assembly in the garb of President’s Rule, the concept of States being supreme in their own domain is completely destroyed.

•In the realm of law and policy, the Centre may issue orders or enact laws that fundamentally alter the State’s policies and programmes. This appears to be permissible under the Constitutional scheme of Article 356, which says the President may assume to himself all or any of the functions of the State government; and Parliament may perform the functions of the State legislature, but the President shall not assume any power vested in the respective High Courts. This schema poses a real danger to the will of the people of a State, as decisions that a popular regime would never make may become possible under President’s rule.

What could happen

•Some of the possibilities of the kind of anti-federal damage that may be done while a State is under Central rule can be listed: (a) suits instituted by the State against other States or the Centre under Article 131 may be withdrawn or claims against it conceded (b) the power of a State Assembly to ratify Constitution amendments may be exercised by Parliament, and (c) the Assembly may be denied the opportunity to give its views on a proposal to alter the boundaries of the State. In the case of J&K, the consent of its legislature was mandatory, but the State Assembly’s consent was given by Parliament itself. The resolution adopted in Parliament stated that since the State legislature’s powers are vested in Parliament, “This House resolves to express the view to accept the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Bill, 2019.”

•To this list of State responsibilities that ought not to be discharged by the Centre while a State is under President’s Rule, one may add two more aspects in respect of J&K. One is the power of the J&K government to concur with proposals to modify the way in which provisions of the Constitution apply to the State; and two, the recommendation of the State ‘Constituent Assembly’ to the President to declare Article 370 inoperative. These two measures have been adopted by the Centre in the name of the Governor and by reading the term ‘Constituent Assembly’ as ‘Legislative Assembly’, and using the factum of the State being under President’s Rule to make Parliament itself perform the duty of recommending the step.

•It may be argued that Article 356 empowers the Centre to assume and perform these two functions. However, these are clearly powers exercisable by elected regimes, and not by the Centre discharging its emergency powers. The implicit limitation on the Centre performing nothing more than routine governance functions on behalf of the State will have to be traced to the overall scheme of Article 356 itself. First, the power is invoked only with the objective of restoring constitutional governance in the State, and not to exercise absolute powers to change policies, laws and programmes of the State in the limited period during which a State is under President’s rule. Parliament may pass the State Budget, or essential legislation so that existing programmes and statutory measures survive, but Article 356 does not give a blanket power to the President or Parliament to alter any matter in which the political leaders and the electorate of the State have a legitimate stake. Unless these implied limitations on the way the President or Parliament performs the functions of a State under Central rule, no State law or policy is safe.

•Another example may drive home the point. Let us suppose the Centre finds that it does not have the requisite number of State Assembly resolutions ratifying a Constitution amendment it has managed to pass with a two-thirds majority in both Houses of Parliament. Can a few State governments be dismissed, and Parliament used to adopt resolutions ratifying the amendments on behalf of those States?

•This may happen in other ways too. A State law may be amended by Parliament during President’s Rule, and thereafter, the subject it falls under may be shifted to the Union or Concurrent List through a Constitution amendment; and the latter may be ratified on behalf of several State governments by placing them under President’s Rule for a limited period. This route may be used to abrogate any State law, and thereafter future elected regimes in the State may be prevented from restoring its old law, by stripping it of its legislative competence.

•Therefore, anyone challenging the constitutionality of the President’s Constitutional Order, or the resolutions adopted by Parliament preparatory to the declaration of Article 370 as inoperative, will also have to seek a verdict that imposes judicial limitations on the extent to which Article 356 can be used to subvert the will of the States.

📰 Give specific timelines for cleaning of Yamuna: NGT

•The National Green Tribunal has directed stakeholders to give specific schedule for cleaning the Yamuna, while noting that repeated timelines have not been adhered to in the last 30 years and pollution of the river was still continuing.

•A bench headed by NGT chairperson justice Adarsh Kumar Goel made it clear that the tribunal will finalise fresh timelines with clear adverse consequences of violating such revised schedules.

•“Such pollution needs to be controlled at the earliest for protection of environment and public health and having regard to unique significance of the Yamuna river, which is a major tributary of the Ganga river,” the Bench said.

•The tribunal directed all authorities to submit timelines for the actions to be undertaken in terms of orders of the NGT and directed Additional Solicitor General Sanjay Jain, appearing for the Delhi government, to compile such information and suggest extended timeline wherever it has expired.

•The green panel had earlier said that failure of authorities is affecting life and health of citizens, and threatening the existence of a major river like Yamuna.

•The tribunal had earlier also expressed dissatisfaction over the cleaning of the Yamuna river and directed Delhi, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh governments to submit a performance guarantee of ₹10 crore each within a month.

•The green panel had said pollution in the Yamuna was of serious concern as it was highly contaminated with industrial effluent and sewage.

•It had also asked the Haryana Pollution Control Board to conduct a study of water quality and the flow of Yamuna at the point it enters Haryana, and submit the list of industries located in the catchment area.

•The green panel had noted that almost 67% of the pollutants that enter the Yamuna would be treated by two sewage treatment plants at Delhi Gate and Najafgarh under the first phase of the Yamuna Revitalisation Project.

📰 Currency capers: On falling rupee

The rupee is falling, but it is too early to start worrying

•The rupee is back in the news following a sharp depreciation in its value versus the dollar in the last one month after a prolonged period of relative stability. It has weakened by a little over 4% since mid-July and on Friday nudged the 72 mark to a dollar before retracing its steps. The fall has to be seen in the context of the overall weakness in currencies of emerging markets and Asia in August. The Turkish lira, Brazilian real, South Africa’s rand, the Mexican peso have all uniformly lost value versus the dollar with the Argentine peso losing the most, but this has more to do with the Argentine economy’s woes. The trigger was China’s devaluation of the yuan to below the 7 per dollar level for the first time in more than a decade; the last time that the yuan was seen below the 7 per dollar mark was during the global financial crisis in 2008. The yuan’s devaluation is itself a part of the complex trade war that Beijing is now waging with the United States whose President has labelled China a currency manipulator. Emerging market currencies have also been depressed more since the bond yield curve inverted in the U.S. last week when yields on 10-year bonds fell below the two-year note signalling the market’s fear of a recession in the U.S. economy. While there’s no data to support such fears as of now, the trade spat with China seems to be giving the jitters to the market.

•The fall in the rupee is, of course, influenced to some extent by the overall economic slowdown and the sell-out in the equity markets in the last couple of months leading to capital withdrawal by foreign portfolio investors. The capital outflow particularly has hit the currency’s valuation. But the fall is no cause for alarm as yet because there is stability on the external account with the current account deficit at a comfortable 0.7% in the quarter ended March 2019. Of course, export growth is depressed but the forex reserves are at historically high levels of $430 billion. In fact, the fall will make India’s exporters competitive. Economists often complain that the rupee is over-valued in terms of the real effective exchange rate making exports uncompetitive. Interestingly, the Reserve Bank of India does not appear to have intervened in support of the rupee, signalling that it is not uncomfortable with the fall. The central bank can be relied upon to enter the market if things get too depressing for the currency. The Finance Minister’s announcements on Friday are sure to perk up the markets on Monday and the rupee may yet bounce back. But, eventually, in an environment where other major emerging market currencies are depreciating, the rupee cannot be an outlier.

📰 A bottom-up approach to conservation

The Western Ghats panel’s suggestions stressed the need to strengthen grass-roots governance

•In 2018, many people thought that the floods and landslides in Kerala that caused huge financial losses and manifold human tragedies marked a once-in-a-century calamity, and that normalcy will return soon and we can merrily return to business as usual. Further, the probability of two such back-to-back events was only 1 in 10,000. Hence, in 2019, a repeat of the shocking train of intense floods, landslides, financial losses and manifold human tragedies has not just left the same set of people stunned but also made them realise that it is unwise to continue business as usual, and that we must think afresh of the options before us.

•What are these alternatives? One set of possibilities is provided by the recommendations of the Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel (WGEEP) which I had the privilege of chairing. Would those measures have averted the disasters of 2018 and 2019? Certainly, they wouldn’t have pre-empted the intense rainfall, but they would have definitely reduced the scale of devastation caused by the downpours.

•All our recommendations were grounded in a careful examination of facts. Furthermore, the policy prescriptions fell firmly within the framework of our constitutional duties and laws. We did not ask for any new law. All we suggested was that the existing laws relating to environmental protection and devolution of powers, right down to the gram sabha and ward sabha level, be followed.

A leader in devolution

•Kerala leads the country in democratic devolution. The Kerala High Court had ruled in favour of Plachimada Panchayat that cancelled Coca-Cola’s licence because the company polluted and depleted groundwater reserves, drying up wells and adversely impacting agriculture and livelihoods. While doing so, the panchayat invoked its constitutional rights, arguing that it had the duty to protect the well-being of its citizens and had the right to cancel — or refuse permission for — anything that affected its citizens adversely. The company’s counterargument was that the panchayat was subordinate to the State government, which had granted it the licence. The Kerala High Court rejected this contention, affirming that grass-roots institutions have the authority to decide on the course of development in their own locality. Furthermore, the Kerala legislature unanimously passed a law asking Coca-Cola to pay Plachimada Panchayat due compensation for losses inflicted on them.

•Kerala had also been at the forefront of the country’s Literacy Mission of the late 1980s; it pioneered Panchayat Level Resource Mapping involving neo-literates and followed it up with the People’s Planning campaign that attempted to involve every panchayat in the preparation of a Panchayat Development Report.

•The WGEEP called for a model of conservation and development compatible with each other; we sought a replacement of the prevailing ‘Develop Recklessly, Conserve Thoughtlessly’ pattern with one of ‘Develop Sustainably, Conserve Thoughtfully.’ This fine-tuning of development practices to the local context would have required the full involvement of local communities. It would have therefore been entirely inappropriate to depend exclusively on government agencies for deciding on and managing Ecologically Sensitive Zones, and our panel certainly had no intention of imposing any development or conservation priorities on the people.

•So, why were our recommendations not implemented? For one, they were dubbed “impractical”. What then is “practical”? Is violation of constitutional provisions that pertain to environmental protection and sabotaging of democratic processes practical? May be so, but it is certainly not desirable. Acting on the WGEEP report would have implied using our recommendations regarding ecological sensitivity as the starting point for a bottom-up democratic process for deciding on how we should safeguard this global biodiversity hotspot and water tower of peninsular India.

Preserving the ‘sensitive zones’

•The WGEEP’s mandate asked it “to demarcate areas within the Western Ghats Region which need to be notified as ecologically sensitive and to recommend for notification of such areas as ecologically sensitive zones under the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986.” In line with the National Forest Policy, we decided to assign 60% of the total area of Western Ghats in Kerala, including the region housing wildlife sanctuaries and national parks, as a zone of highest ecological sensitivity, ‘ESZ1’.

•We proposed ‘elevation’ and ‘slope’ as two indicators of sensitivity. In Kerala, rainfall increases rapidly with elevation, and high rainfall and steep slopes render localities vulnerable to landslides. Hence, areas prone to landslides would come under ESZ1.

•The extent and quality of natural vegetation was the third indicator for classifying an area as ESZ1. Landslides are under check in areas with intact natural vegetation because the roots bind the soil. Any disturbance to such vegetation would render any locality that has steep slopes and experiences high rainfall susceptible to landslides. Such disturbances may include quarrying or mining, replacement of natural vegetation by new plantations, levelling of the land using heavy machinery, and construction of houses and roads. Therefore, we recommended that such activities be avoided in ESZ1 areas. Had our recommendations been accepted, the extent and intensity of landslides being encountered today would have been much lower. Implementation of our overall recommendations would have also had a plethora of other desirable results, both for nature and for people.

•So, it would surely be wise to apply the panel’s recommendations now. This would imply building on India’s greatest strength, its deep-rooted democracy. Democracy is not merely voting once in five years; it is the active involvement of us citizens in governing the country at all levels, most importantly at the local level. We must insist that the Kerala High Court ruling that local bodies have the authority to decide on the course of development in their own localities be made genuinely operational across the country.

•We must take full advantage of powers and responsibilities conferred on citizens under provisions such as the 73rd and 74th Amendments to the Constitution, and the Biological Diversity Act, 2002. We should assert that conservation prescriptions should not be merely regulatory, but include positive incentives such as conservation service charges. We must hand over economic activities like quarrying to agencies like the Kudumbashree groups that are accountable to local communities. We, the sovereign people, are the real rulers of India and must engage ourselves more actively in the governance of the country and lead it on to a path of people-friendly and nature-friendly development.

📰 IMF report flags several delays in India’s data reporting

IMF report flags several delays in India’s data reporting
In 2018, India failed to comply with multiple requirements prescribed in the Special Data Dissemination Standard (SDDS) mandatory for all IMF members

•Even as questions have been raised about the delays in data dissemination from various government agencies — the most recent data from the National Crime Records Bureau dates back to 2016 and accident statistics have not been updated since 2015 — a recent report published by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), shows that inconsistencies have crept into into the dissemination of fiscal datasets as well.

•According to the IMF’s “Annual Observance Report of the Special Data Dissemination Standard for 2018”, India failed to comply with multiple requirements prescribed in the Special Data Dissemination Standard (SDDS) — a practice mandatory for all IMF members — whereas comparable economies comprising the BRICS grouping of Brazil, China, South Africa and Russia, have maintained a near impeccable record in the same period. Also, India’s non-compliance in multiple categories in 2018 and to an extent in 2017 breaks with an otherwise near perfect dissemination record.

•When contacted, the IMF acknowledged India’s deviations but termed them “non-serious”. However, independent observers see these deficiencies as a result of indifference to data dissemination procedures.

Importance of SDDS

•The IMF launched the SDDS initiative in 1996 to guide members to enhance data transparency and help financial market participants with adequate information to assess the economic situations of individual countries. India subscribed to the SDDS on December 27, 1996.

•The yearly observance report for each member country lists the compliances and deviations from the SDDS under each data category for that year. There are over 20 data categories which IMF considers for this report to capture a nation’s economic health including national accounts (GDP, GNI), production indices, employment, and central government operations.

•The report lists three types of deviations from SDDS. The first deals with delays in data dissemination from the periodicity prescribed in the SDDS. The second occurs when member countries do not list a data category in their Advance Release Calendars (ARC) despite the category being mandated by the SDDS. The third deviation occurs when data is not disseminated at all for a particular period.

•India, in 2018, has deviated from the SDDS in at least one instance in all the data categories listed. (Page 6: 

•A negative entry corresponds to “number of days dissemination was later than timeliness requirement”. In 2018, in eight data categories, India delayed dissemination by varying degrees. For instance, in quarter 1, the “national accounts” data dissemination occurred almost two months (118 days) later than prescribed.

•In comparison, Brazil did not delay dissemination in any category. China, South Africa and Russia lagged in some categories but the delay did not exceed a month (31 days) for any category. In India's case, the delay has exceeded 100 days in multiple instances.

•An “X” entry reflects “data not being disseminated”. In 2018, in at least nine data categories, India has not disseminated data. None of the other BRICS countries’ reports records missing data for the period.

•An “O” entry corresponds to “no mention in ARC”. In at least three data categories, India has not mentioned a prescribed entry in its advanced data release calendar — again the odd one out among the BRICS nations.

A recent phenomenon

•India’s non-compliance with IMF standards is a recent phenomenon. The “X”s for non-dissemination of data and “O”s for data categories missing from the ARC were few and far between in India’s reports in the 2006-2016 period. The graphic lists such instances since 2006.

•When asked for the reason for the delays in 2018, Deputy Director in the Department of Economic Affairs Aakanksha Arora termed it as a “one off event due to technical glitches”.

•“In 2018, various changes were carried out for the improvement of website of Ministry of Finance which hosts the National Summary Data Page (NSDP) web page. In this process, due to some technical glitches related to the Ministry’s website, data in the NSDP was not recorded in the SDDS of IMF in 2018 despite updating the data on regular frequency,” Ms. Arora said.

•The IMF’s “Guide for Subscribers and Users: The Special Data Dissemination Standard; 2013”, a reference manual for the SDDS subscribers mentions that “monthly reports are sent to individual subscribing countries about their observance”. Thus India would have received such intimations about its deviations at the end of every month in 2018 from the IMF as at least one deviation from SDDS were observed in all the months.

•The IMF document also states that “monitoring observance of the SDDS is central to maintaining the credibility of the IMF’s data standards initiatives and its usefulness to policymakers.” It further states that if the IMF staff considers a non-observance as a “serious deviation” then procedures would be initiated against the member country.

•When asked to explain the significance of India’s recent non-observance, the IMF’s statistics department acknowledged that “there have been some deviations from SDDS requirements mainly on timeliness…. some data points were posted on the NSDP with delay.” However, the IMF staff did not consider these as “serious deviations”.

•IMF came to this conclusion as,“although some data points were posted on NSDP with delays. They were made available on other (Indian) government websites on a timely basis through links on the NSDP to these websites”.

•When asked about the “X's and “O”s mentioned in the report, IMF said, “similar to deviations in timeliness, these too were duly noted in the Annual Observance Reports to indicate the need for improvements”.

•However this is in contradiction to the IMF’s SDDS guide document, which states that “Coordination among statistical agencies in providing data to the host agency for the NSDP is critical to meeting this SDDS requirement”. The document further states that “The NSDP is to disseminate, at a minimum, the latest observation and the observation immediately preceding it for all prescribed data categories and related components.” The document mentions the option to link to government websites for detailed data only as an “obligation”.

•When the IMF was asked to explain why India’s non-observance was deemed as non-serious , their statistical department persisted that this was due to “information availability in other government websites”. It added that “the forthcoming harmonisation of the NSDPs for all SDDS countries with those for SDDS Plus and e-GDDS countries (other similar standards)” will solve this issue.

‘Lack of attention’

•However, independent data experts have raised concerns about the delays. Former acting chairman of the National Statistical Commission, P.C. Mohanan said India’s deviations are a “result of inadequate care paid to (data) dissemination related issues which leads to a lack of openness and transparency.”

•He also said metadata and reference links given in the NSDP “have not been updated for quite some time.” Mr. Mohanan also rued the fact these issues are not new. “They (IMF) had then (in 2004) suggested to have a single comprehensive NSDP containing all data categories. We still have different agencies providing the data and the links all lead to different home pages of their websites. The references are circular that you end up where you started.”

•He said data collection efforts are more towards large schemes like Economic Census and not towards improving the data quality.

•Mr. Mohanan cited another part of the same IMF report to prove this point. “Information provided under the Data Quality Assurance Framework (DQAF) under various heads are also very patchy and poorly edited. For example the link to the employment data refers to the 68th round of NSS (2011-12) with all the survey instructions. Even the contact person’s details are not updated.”

•Pointing out that the statistical system has behaved more like an adjunct to the government, Mr. Mohanan said the legal framework had to be updated for the statistical system to regain its high standards and credibility.

•“The strength of the professional cadre also needs to be augmented and the internal architecture of both CSO and NSSO thoroughly reviewed to bring in professional competency and specialisation. In the present context this does not appear to be a priority for the Government,” he added.

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