The HINDU Notes – 30th August 2019 - VISION

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Saturday, August 31, 2019

The HINDU Notes – 30th August 2019

📰 Russia set to offer submarines during Modi-Putin summit

Russia set to offer submarines during Modi-Putin summit
Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft also likely to be offered

•Russia is likely to offer India its conventional submarines on the government-to-government route under the Navy’s Project-75I at the summit between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Vladimir Putin at Vladivostok next week, Russian officials said.

•“Russian conventional submarines will be offered through the government-to-government route to India at the summit. This will save a lot of time in the procurement process,” one official said.

•“The possibility of offering India the Su-57, the Russian Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft (FGFA), is also being explored, but it has not been decided yet,” he said.

•The Navy is looking to buy six advanced conventional diesel-electric submarines under Project 75I that, after several delays, has made progress in the past several months. The procurement is under the Strategic Partnership (SP) model, and is the second project to be processed through this route after the Navy’s tender for utility helicopters.

•The Russian submarine will likely be based on the Amur 1650 conventional submarine, modified to suit Indian requirements. The contenders for Project-75I are the Naval Group of France, Rosoboronexport Rubin Design Bureau of Russia, ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems of Germany and Saab Group of Sweden.

•In June, the Navy issued the Expression of Interest (EoI) for short-listing potential Indian strategic partners for the project put at ₹45,000 crore. The potential strategic partners were asked to respond within two months. The Indian partners will be short-listed based on the technical and financial capability to execute the project and absorb the technologies. The foreign manufacturer will be selected separately. However, the strategic partnership is a long-drawn process with many uncertainties, as this model is being attempted for the first time.

Su-57 ready for export

•The Russian FGFA has completed its development cycle, and the first batch is being produced for delivery to the Russian Air Force. Russian officials said at the ongoing MAKS air show that the jet was also ready for export.

•India was to have jointly developed its FGFA based on the Russian jet. But after protracted negotiations, India decided last year not to go ahead with the project. Speaking to reporters, Victor N. Kladov, Director for International Cooperation and Regional Policy at Rostec, said Russia had never cancelled any agreement with the Indian government. “The FGFA project has been delayed by the Indian side, not by the Russian side,” he said.

📰 U.S. to keep 8,600 troops in Afghanistan after peace deal

No complete withdrawal; force to provide ‘high intelligence’

•President Donald Trump on Thursday said that U.S. troop levels in Afghanistan will drop to 8,600 if a deal is reached with the Taliban and that a permanent presence will remain.

•“We’re going down to 8,600 and then we make a determination from there,” Mr. Trump said in an interview with Fox News radio. “We’re always going to have a presence.”

•Mr. Trump also said that if another attack on the United States originated from Afghanistan “we would come back with a force like... never before.”

•U.S. troops were first sent to Afghanistan after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on U.S. soil carried out by al-Qaeda, which was sheltered by the former Taliban regime.

•Washington now wants to end its military involvement and has been talking to the Taliban since at least 2018. Mr. Trump says that troops will only be reduced when the Taliban gives a guarantee that its territory will not be used by Al-Qaeda or other international militant groups.

•Mr. Trump underlined that there was to be no complete withdrawal, keeping a force that would provide “high intelligence.”

•“You have to keep a presence,” he said.

•Meanwhile, Defense Secretary Mark Esper, who was confirmed as the Pentagon chief a month ago, told reporters that talks with the Taliban in Qatar must guarantee that Afghanistan “is no longer a safe haven for terrorists to attack the U.S.”

📰 On dilution, bifurcation and ‘special status’

J&K’s perceived loss and New Delhi’s real gains over the Centre’s Article 370 decision need to be objectively assessed

•The jubilation in parts of the country following the supposed abrogation of Article 370 was in contrast to the gloom in the Kashmir Valley. It was ignored by both sides that New Delhi did not make any substantial gain in terms of powers; neither did Srinagar suffer any major loss. Later, in what could be construed as a setback to the Centre, the Supreme Court referred all the petitions on Article 370 to a Constitution Bench, which will hear the matter in the first week of October.

•Amidst these developments, some points require deeper scrutiny. First, the apex court could possibly strike down as ‘unconstitutional’ the Centre’s move to amend Article 370 by invoking the very same article. Second, the bifurcation of a State which is under President’s rule into two Union Territories is possibly against federalism. And third, Article 370, as it stood on August 4, was a special power available not to Kashmir, but to the Centre.

•First, Article 370 has not been abrogated. It still very much remains part of the Constitution. Instead, the government, in an innovative and constitutionally suspect manner, invoked the Article to amend Article 367. On August 5, the President inserted a new clause to say that the ‘Constituent Assembly’ of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) shall mean ‘Legislative Assembly’ of the State, and ‘State government’ shall mean ‘Governor acting on the advice of Council of Ministers’. With this interpretation, Article 370 presented an entirely different picture. Since the erstwhile State was already under President’s rule, the Parliament, by exercising ‘powers’ of the Legislative Assembly, gave its concurrence to the aggressive surgery of Article 370 that has killed the spirit as well as the text of the provision.

Bona-fide exercise of power?

•True, during President’s rule, Parliament can certainly exercise ‘powers’ of the State Assembly; but whether the aforesaid ‘concurrence’ can be termed as a legitimate and bona-fide exercise of power is a moot question for various reasons.

•One, a Legislative Assembly that was in itself a creation of the Constituent Assembly cannot take the place of the latter. Two, the August 5 order defined the ‘State government’ to mean ‘Governor acting on the advice of Council of Ministers’. And since there was no Council of Ministers, the validity of the Governor’s concurrence mentioned in the presidential order was questionable.

•Finally, Article 370(1)(d), which on August 5 was used for the purpose of diluting the Article itself, was meant to be deployed to apply ‘other provisions of Constitution’ to Jammu and Kashmir, not to modify or repeal Article 370 itself. The expression ‘other provisions’ here means provisions other than ‘Article 1’, ‘Article 238’ (now repealed) and ‘Article 370’.

•Four points are to be kept in mind here. First, one constitutional provision cannot be used to nullify another. Second, an interpretation clause is to be used only when there is ambiguity in the Constitution. Here, the ‘Constituent Assembly’ Article 370 talked about was clearly identifiable — it first met on October 31, 1951 and was dissolved on January 26, 1957, and hence there was no ambiguity. Third, even when there are two contradictory provisions, the ‘doctrine of harmonious construction’ is to be invoked so that both the provisions are given effect to. Fourth, like Parliament, President too cannot alter the federal character of the Constitution, which has been held to be part of its basic structure. The Constitution prohibits colourable exercise of power — what you cannot do directly, you cannot do even indirectly.

Blow to federalism

•Next, the constitutional validity of Jammu and Kashmir’s bifurcation into two Union Territories is also doubtful. Article 3, which deals with Parliament’s powers to alter boundaries of a State or bifurcate it, required the President to obtain the ‘concurrence’ of the J&K State Assembly before Parliament took up such a Bill. It has now come to light that while imposing President’s rule in J&K on December 19, 2018, the proviso on the reference to Assembly was suspended. This not only shows that the bifurcation was planned by the Centre in 2018 itself but also gives a clear indication of its mala-fide intention of doing something indirectly.

•A mala-fide presidential action under Article 356 can be struck down. If the apex court upholds the Centre’s suspension of Article 3, it will be an end of Indian federalism as States will become a plaything in the Centre’s hands. It needs to be recalled here that prior to the Reorganisation Act of 1956, States were given the opportunity to express their views. Andhra Pradesh Assembly too was given this opportunity in 2014 prior to the creation of Telangana. Since the J&K Assembly stood dissolved and there had been no election announced, it was denied its right to express its view.

•When a State is under President’s rule, Parliament can act as nothing more than a ‘night watchman’. It certainly cannot pass a resolution to bifurcate the State.

No major departure

•Let us now objectively assess New Delhi’s gains in sounding the death knell for Article 370. Since almost the entire Constitution of India had been already applicable to J&K, constitutionally speaking, heavens have not fallen for Srinagar. Entry 76 of Union List, which deals with audit, was extended to J&K in 1958 . The Election Commission of India was similarly given powers to conduct elections from 1959 by the First Amendment to the J&K Constitution. A total of 94 out of the 97 items in the Union List had already been made applicable to J&K when the Centre made its move and hence Parliament had all the powers.

•Out of the 395 Articles in the Indian Constitution, 260 Articles had already been extended to J&K through successive Presidential Orders. As regards the rest of the Articles, J&K Constitution had identical provisions. Moreover, more than 250 Central laws had already been extended and most of J&K’s State laws were identical to Central laws.

•In reality, the ‘special status’ Article 370 conferred was not to J&K but to the Central government. The Centre could deny certain provisions while extending unilaterally some other amendments. For instance, following the 44th Amendment, unlike in the rest of the country, national emergency in J&K could still be imposed on the grounds of ‘internal emergency’. Similarly, while for the rest of the country, freedom of speech could be curtailed only through ‘reasonable restrictions’, in J&K, it could be controlled through restrictions that “appropriate legislature considered reasonable”.

•Yes, we do live in a post-truth world but we need to objectively assess J&K’s loss and New Delhi’s real gains when it comes to the dilution of Article 370. Further, whether the apex court will allow India to become a ‘unitary state’ remains to be seen.

📰 What is the right way of regulating social media?

Policy discussions involving the public, and not tech solutions alone, would help fight fake news.

•The Supreme Court recently stressed the need to find a balance between the right to online privacy and the right of the state to detect people who use the web to spread panic and commit crimes. Are current regulations and the nature of Internet platforms tuned to find this balance? In a conversation moderated by Srinivasan Ramani, Arun Mohan Sukumar, Head of  Cyber Security and Internet Governance Initiative  at the Observer Research Foundation, and Raman Chima, Asia Policy Director and Senior International Counsel at 'Access Now', take stock of the issues involved and offer some suggestions. Excerpts:

Arun, in the last few years there has been an explosion in the use of messaging apps such as WhatsApp. Concomitantly, there has been an increase in fake news and rumour-mongering leading to lynchings. Are the steps taken by WhatsApp to combat this enough or should it do more?

•Arun Mohan Sukumar: When you ask us what are the steps, we should also ask whether these are the steps that we should take in the first place. I think many would agree that some of these problems have nothing to do with the platforms themselves and cannot be resolved by technological solutions.

•Fake news is not something that has been catalysed in the digital age alone; it has been a long-standing problem. We have had very little success in trying to persuade people not to believe certain stuff. And I’m not entirely sure whether the solution to this problem necessarily lies in technology.

•WhatsApp, to its credit, tried to limit forwards to five people and the norm has been tested. It has been piloted in other parts of the world as well. WhatsApp is looking at India not just as a booming market but also as a place where it can pilot some of these solutions and test them out in other emerging markets as well.

•If you take uncomfortable situations developing in another part of the world, Facebook and Twitter were fairly quick to acknowledge the disinformation operations that were backed by the Chinese government in Hong Kong. This came out in a simultaneous way, documenting instances where state-sponsored elements were perpetrating fake news and sophisticated disinformation campaigns against protesters in Hong Kong. That happened because, one, the extent of the commercial engagement of both these platforms in China is fairly limited. Two, there is an element of geopolitics in this which we can’t ignore. The fact is that both of these are American platforms. The orchestrated disclosure, I believe, could have had the blessings of the American government. That is the extent to which these platforms are prepared to take cognisance of fake news. In other economies, it’s quite selective.

•While WhatsApp has been trying to resist this idea of message traceability, it is also trying to maintain the integrity of the platform. Many regulators in India believe that technological fixes are solutions even if they weaken end-to-end encryption. I’m not sure that is the right way to go.

Raman, while technology per se is not the problem, virality of texts makes fake news spread very fast. Would you agree with some of the solutions that have been propounded — for example, Professor V. Kamakoti’s idea of tracing origin of WhatsApp messages?

•Raman Chima: Firstly, on virality, communication virality has been there right from the invention of the Gutenberg printing press. Mass circulation has always resulted in tension between people in power with others.

•When it comes to messaging services, when they were implemented in India and in other emerging economies, they were not just used for the purpose of messaging. They were, for many people, information discovery platforms. They do not often relate or refer to the World Wide Web. The kind of information consumed in messages are images and videos that may not be actually hosted on the web. The problem, therefore, is that messaging platforms haven’t been able to do a good job in ensuring that people have access to good, accurate information. For example, if you sign up to a messaging service, say WhatsApp, are you informed in your local language about how you could report in your own language disinformation content and messages that are malicious or abusive? Sadly, the reality is that there is not even a splash screen in the local language to know what you can or cannot say, during the process of signing up.

•Also, fact-checking websites, fake news busters and government sources don’t get the support they need to distribute their content to local users in interior areas. Therefore, the messaging services companies could do more in fighting disinformation. I agree with Arun that they cannot be held liable and that they shouldn’t implement technological solutions as a panacea. You mentioned suggestions by Professor Kamakoti of IIT Madras to the Madras High Court. First of all, there is the argument that the Madras High Court should not be going into an area which is a legislative issue. Even if that is set aside, his proposals have been critiqued by other computer scientists. Professor Manoj Prabhakaran of IIT Bombay, for example, has argued against such models of imparting traceability.

Both of you seem to agree that the solution doesn’t lie in technology, and neither is there any need to add any extra layer of liability for social media platforms and websites. So, the Shreya Singhal judgment in 2015 was along these lines, right? Some provisions on intermediary liability on publishing were actually read down. But last year, the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology notified new draft rules for intermediaries and called for public comments. What levels of liability would you set for social media platforms?

•AMS: There has been a raft of litigious activity and, concurrently, fairly explosive growth in regulatory guidelines as well. These guidelines from the government have been trying to enhance the agency of the government over technology companies. For instance, there is a debate among government industries today about data localisation, something that will affect the working of most of these big technology companies. The fundamental tension at work is that most of the technology companies, which are into the bread-and-butter business of communication, are based abroad. The consumer base is clear with a WhatsApp or Facebook or Twitter. WhatsApp has effectively made encrypted communication a mass market phenomenon here, which is great for correspondence generally. But on the other hand, the government has very little agency to make these companies do what they want to in terms of adhering to certain intermediary guidelines. Of course, the reason why these guidelines were lampooned was because the government imposed a high degree of liability, and takedown requirements in many cases were selectively followed. The fact is that if you were to take a step back and look, the government has very limited agency over these companies at the moment. On the one hand, there is a great deal of adoption by a wide user base, which is only increasing as Internet connectivity grows in India. And WhatsApp did not even have an office in India till very lately!

•And the same thing goes for Internet shutdowns. Now, nobody would say that Internet shutdowns are a desirable phenomenon. But if you speak to local law enforcement agencies and district magistrates, they tell you that they have very limited avenues by which they can prevent the proliferation of malicious content on the Internet through social media platforms at a time of crisis, whether that crisis is a natural calamity or whether it is man made. So, they have resorted to these in a ham-handed fashion. Of course, you can’t justify these measures. But the fact is that at the local level or at the federal level, there seems to be very little agency that government officials have to do what they should do.

•RC: On intermediary liability, it has already been identified by our judiciary that the issue of making platforms liable for the content posted by users impacts free speech. And the basic premise there is, you can put pressure on tech platforms to over censor or even perhaps harm the privacy of users by making them liable for all the content they have posted on platforms.

•When Parliament legislated provisions, there were some ambiguities over what the executive branch could regulate via rules. Rules were criticised when they were released in 2012 and, ultimately, as you mentioned, they were read down in the Shreya Singhal judgment. The court basically said that if you are asking for content takedowns, that can be done only via a court order or through a legal process. The government’s proposed amendments to the rules, for example, that web platforms should deploy self-censoring/auto-filtering of content by users could definitely fly against the face of the court’s judgment.

•More importantly, on some issues such as identifying the origin of messages through breaking encryption, the government seems to be using rule-making as a way to fix and patch these. Whereas it would be better off to have substantial legislative policy discussions held in a public manner over such knotty issues. Also, as Arun says, there is a lack of agency for the government to receive information from the platforms as there is no clear privacy law in place.

Government agencies lack sufficient agency and often use a ham-handed approach to enforce takedowns or shutdowns. In some cases, a total communication shutdown, as we see in Kashmir today, invoking ‘national interest’. What kind of mechanisms would you suggest instead of this approach?

•AMS: We did this capacity-building workshop a couple of years ago, with law enforcement agencies from across States. Some States clearly did better, because they had, for lack of a better reason, good cops. They were interested in pursuing this sort of “finesse” measures and not merely rely on takedowns. Telangana, for instance, has a cadre of officers who dedicate themselves to preventing the propagation of fake news through channels like WhatsApp. Some of these steps require serious investment and I am not sure if all States have the capacity.

•So perhaps the Prime Minister’s/the Centre’s sending a message down to folks at the district level may well produce some results. But the fact is that they resort to these ham-handed measures because they do not have any other tools.

•But I also agree that India is one of the countries which often tops the number of takedown requests, but it’s not the only country or the only government that is interested in data from users. Facebook’s reports that indicate the number of requests that the government has made for a takedown show that India’s [requests for a takedown] are up there with the U.S. government or any other Western European government.

📰 RBI says lack of domestic demand affecting ‘animal spirits’ of economy

Reviving the consumption demand and private investment has assumed the highest priority in 2019-20, notes central bank report.

•The Reserve Bank of India (RBI), in its annual report for 2018-19, has said the lack of domestic demand is holding back the animal spirits in the economy and emphasised the need to revive consumption demand and private investment during 2019-20. 

•“What ails the animal spirits? At the core is the issue of domestic demand,” the RBI said in the annual report.

•The report said the recent deceleration could be in the nature of a soft patch mutating into a cyclical downswing, rather than a deep structural slowdown.

•“Nonetheless, there are still structural issues in land, labour, agricultural marketing and the like, which need to be addressed,” the report said, adding that the policy focus at this point should remain on improving ease of doing business.

•The RBI stressed on continued focus on reforms in factors of production, faster implementation of capital expenditure by public authorities, among others.

•While the central bank’s analysis confirms that a broadbased cyclical downturn is underway in several sectors like manufacturing, trade, hotels, transport, communication and broadcasting, construction; and agriculture, it added that the growth trend has witnessed slight moderation since 2016-17, contributed mainly by the services sector.

•The central bank said reviving consumption demand and private investment has assumed the highest priority in 2019-20. This involves strengthening the banking and non-banking sectors, a big push for spending on infrastructure and implementation of much needed structural reforms in the areas of labour laws, taxation, and other legal reforms.

•All these measures will also enhance ease of doing business in pursuit of fulfilling the vision of India becoming a $5 trillion economy by 2024-25, the RBI said.

•On the financial sector, the banking regulator said several measures had resulted in a decline in gross non-performing assets (GNPA) ratio of the banking system to 9.1% at end-March 2019, from 11.2% in the previous year, apart from a decline in fresh slippages and an improvement in provision coverage ratio.

•”The abatement of stress has rekindled bank credit flows, which are getting broad-based,” the report said.

•The bankruptcy code is turning out to be a game changer for banks in resolving stressed assets, RBI said.

•“After initial, teething difficulties, the insolvency and bankruptcy code is proving to be a game changer: recoveries have gradually improved and as a result, deadlocks in the potential path of the investment cycle are easing,” the report said. 

📰 Govt. needs to be prudent in using RBI’s transfer

The fund transfer provides some much-needed relief and manoeuvrability to the beleaguered Centre

•With the acceptance of the Bimal Jalan committee’s report by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), the stand-off between the RBI and the Ministry of Finance seems to have ended for now. The report has also helped to clarify the volume of reserves required for risk provisioning to counter a financial stability crisis if it were to arise.

•Though the RBI belongs entirely to the government, the integrity of its balance sheet is important to ensure financial stability and to combat market risks. The committee made its recommendations after taking into account the role of RBI in financial salience; cross-country practices; statutory requirements; and impact of its public policy mandate and operating environment. Based on these factors, it decided on the volume of reserves required to support the financial system in times of crisis and concluded that the provisioning has to be more stringent than in developed countries to ensure the perception of safety, particularly as India has low sovereign rating and the Indian rupee does not have reserve currency status.

•The revised economic capital framework recommended by the committee makes a distinction in the economic capital of the RBI between ‘revaluation reserves’ and ‘realised equity’. Revaluation reserves, it held, are a risk buffer against market risks and not available for transfer. The committee used the Expected Shortfall (ES) method to measure the market risk and adopted a more stringent confidence level of 99.5% as against the practice by other central banks at 99%.

Economic capital range

•The revised framework would allow the economic capital to be in the range of 24.5% to 20% of the balance sheet. As regards realised equity, the committee recommended the required range to be between 6.5 to 5.5% of the balance sheet.

•The RBI Board in its meeting on August 26 accepted these recommendations and decided to transfer ₹1,76,051 crore to the government. As the economic capital of the RBI, at 23.3% in June 2019, was within the prescribed range, it decided to transfer the entire surplus of ₹1,23,414 crore earned during 2018-19. As the RBI had already transferred ₹28,000 crore as interim dividend in February 2019, the remaining amount will be transferred in the current fiscal. The government will get an amount of ₹58,081 crore over the budgeted dividend of ₹90,000 crore for the current fiscal. The large surplus in 2018-2019 was mainly due to the revenues earned from open market operations, amounting to ₹3 lakh crore, to shore up liquidity and therefore, the coming years may not see such large dividends.

•The additional fund transfer from the RBI provides much-needed relief and manoeuvrability to the beleaguered government. An analysis of the budget presented in July shows that the tax revenue projections are far too optimistic. In fact, the actual net tax revenue collection of the centre in 2018-2019 was ₹15.9 lakh crore and to achieve the budgeted target of ₹19.78 lakh crore in 2019-2020, the net tax revenue will have to increase by almost 25% and correspondingly, gross tax revenue will have to grow by 26.5%. The expected shortfall in tax revenue for the Central government, if the past trend is taken (after devolution to the States), is likely to be about ₹70,000 crore.

Achieving fiscal deficit target

•With the economy slowing down and the Goods and Services Tax (GST) not kicking in the expected buoyancy, the shortfall may even be higher. The infusion of additional funds, thus, will help the government to substantially overcome this shortfall and achieve the fiscal deficit target without having to axe allocations to social sector and poverty alleviation.

•However, while the Central government will overcome the shortfall in tax collections, the States will have to suffer the consequence of lower-than-budgeted revenue realisations. They have presented their budgets taking into account the tax devolution based on Central budget forecast and shortfall in collections will adversely impact their expenditure allocations to various sectors.

•If, on the other hand, the tax revenue growth picks up, then the government can use the additional money to clear the dues of the Food Corporation of India and fertiliser companies to minimise spillover of deficits to the next year. The additional funds can also be used to spend on much-needed capital expenditure.

•The decision of the RBI Board must be welcomed as it has not come a day sooner and should help the government in combating the economic slowdown and to conform to the fiscal targets. It is hoped that the government will be prudent in using these funds.

📰 UN warns of rising seas, storm surges

Draft report says rising global ocean waterline could displace 250 million people by 2100

•The same oceans that nourished human evolution are poised to unleash misery on a global scale unless the carbon pollution destabilising Earth’s marine environment is brought to heel, warns a draft UN report obtained by AFP.

•Destructive changes already set in motion could see a steady decline in fish stocks, a hundred-fold or more increase in the damages caused by superstorms, and hundreds of millions of people displaced by rising seas, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) “special report” on oceans and Earth's frozen zones, known as the cryosphere. As the 21st century unfolds, melting glaciers will first give too much and then too little to billions who depend on them for fresh water, it finds.

•Without deep cuts to manmade emissions, at least 30% of the northern hemisphere’s surface permafrost could melt by century’s end, unleashing billions of tonnes of carbon and accelerating global warming even more.

•The 900-page scientific assessment is the fourth such tome from the UN in less than a year, with others focused on a 1.5-Celsius cap on global warming, the state of biodiversity, and how to manage forests and the global food system.

•All four conclude that humanity must overhaul the way it produces and consumes almost everything to avoid the worst ravages of climate change and environmental degradation.

•Governments meet in Monaco next month to vet the new report’s official summary. The final advice to policymakers will be released on September 25.

Extreme events

•By 2050, many low-lying megacities and small island nations will experience “extreme sea level events” every year, the report concludes.

•Even if the world manages to cap global warming at two degrees Celsius, the global ocean waterline will rise enough to displace more 250 million people.

•The report indicated this could happen as soon as 2100, though some experts think it is more likely to happen on a longer timescale.

📰 Anandan’s day gecko discovered in the Nilgiris

•It may only be a tiny reptile but the recent discovery of the 35th species of day gecko highlights the rich biodiversity of the Western Ghats, some of which remains hidden in plain sight even today.

•The recently discovered Cnemaspis anandani (Anandan’s day gecko), is the most recent day gecko found in the Nilgiris and is endemic to the Western Ghats.

•In a recent paper, B.H. Channakeshava Murthy, A. Nitesh, Shruti Sengupta and P. Deepak, described their finding of the gecko in the areas surrounding a forest in Kotagiri, Nilgiris.

•Mr. Nitesh told The Hindu that the Nilgiris district itself was home to three other Cnemaspis species. “What makes this discovery significant is that this species of day gecko was not found in inaccessible forests, but near human habitations,” said Nitesh. It was clear that the Anandan’s day gecko would have previously been found in native forests nearby, but gradually had to adapt to changes to their habitat and live in closer proximity to human settlements.

•The Anandan’s day gecko, which is only around 42 mm in size, was found near roads surrounding the reserve forests, said Mr. Nitesh, who added that the findings indicated that there might be other reptiles that were yet to be discovered in the Nilgiris and the Western Ghats landscape in general. “It has been named by us as Anandan’s day gecko after my father Anandan Sethuraman, a conservationist,” said Mr. Nitesh.

Extinction threat

•Though the researchers are thrilled at finding and classifying the newest members of the Cnemaspis family, they are concerned that the Anandan’s day gecko, like many other species, some of which may still be undiscovered in the Western Ghats, faces the threat of extinction.

•While one threat may be from natural predators such as calotes (lizards), and birds, the more serious threat could be due to anthropogenic factors. “Because these populations are seemingly small and isolated, they are at risk of going extinct due to habitat loss and also from diseases, which could quickly wipe them out,” said Mr. Nitesh, adding that more studies need to be done to ascertain the threats that face small reptile species in the Western Ghats.

📰 How the RBI ended 2018-19 with an over ₹1.23 lakh-crore surplus

How the RBI ended 2018-19 with an over ₹1.23 lakh-crore surplus
How the RBI ended 2018-19 with an over ₹1.23 lakh-crore surplus
The central bank recorded a huge jump in gains from foreign exchange transactions while its interest income leapfrogged

•Ever since the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) announced a jaw-dropping surplus of ₹1,23,414 crore for 2018-19 (July-June accounting year), the question that has been uppermost on everyone’s mind is: how did the central bank post such a massive surplus?

•In the immediate two preceding years, 2017-18 and 2016-17, the surpluses were only ₹50,004 crore and ₹30,663 crore respectively.

•The RBI Annual Report for 2018-19, released on Thursday, provides the answers. There are two basic reasons for the impressive surge.

Dollar value

•First, a huge ₹28,998 crore gain from foreign exchange transactions thanks mainly to a change in accounting policy. Until last year, when the RBI sold dollars in the market (to support the rupee), the gain or loss was calculated based on the previous Friday’s market value of the dollar. This policy was changed this year to reflect the historical acquisition cost of the dollar. A rough, back-of-the-envelope calculation puts this historical cost at around ₹53. This means that, if the RBI were to sell the dollar in the market today at around ₹72, it stands to gain ₹19 for every unit it sells.

•In the previous year, the RBI posted a loss of ₹4,067 crore from similar transactions. Former top RBI officials say that the change in policy is not inappropriate as the earlier method resulted in understatement of gains. The RBI has been buying dollars regularly since the 1991 crisis to build up its reserves at rates much lower than the prevailing one.

•When it sells those dollars, the actual gains have to be computed in reference to the weighted average acquisition cost and not that of the previous Friday.

•The second reason for the higher surplus is a leap in interest income which was higher by ₹32,966 crore compared to 2017-18. The RBI conducted several rounds of open market operations (OMO) last year to infuse liquidity leading to a 57% jump in its holding of government bonds.

•As per estimates by SBI Research, the RBI purchased a whopping ₹3,31,100 crore net of government bonds in 2018-19 through OMOs.

•Interest from bond holdings alone was higher by ₹10,375 crore while Liquidity Adjustment Facility (LAF) operations yielded another ₹1,046 crore as interest earnings.

•Last year, the central bank had paid interest of ₹9,541 crore to banks as it absorbed excess liquidity from the market. The liquidity infusion operations resulted in a rise in currency in circulation by a good 13.43% to ₹21,68,797 crore as of June 30 this year.

•The RBI’s balance sheet size grew by 13.41% to ₹41,02,905 crore in 2018-19.