The HINDU Notes – 13th September 2019 - VISION

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Friday, September 13, 2019

The HINDU Notes – 13th September 2019

📰 Narendra Modi to visit U.S. from September 21

The Prime Minister will address the U.N. General Assembly on the morning of September 27, the last day of his visit.

•Prime Minister Narendra Modi will visit the U.S. between September 21 and September 27 during which he will address the annual U.N. General Assembly session and have a series of bilateral and multilateral engagements in New York, the Ministry of External Affairs said on September 12.

•MEA spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said Mr. Modi will also attend an Indian community event in Houston during the visit.

•“The (PM’s) visit will be from late evening of September 21 to forenoon of September 27,” Mr. Kumar said during a media briefing.

•According to an updated list of speakers for the General Debate of the 74th session of the U.N. General Assembly (UNGA), Mr. Modi will address the session on the morning of September 27.

•His speech at the U.N. will be the first after winning a second term.

•Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan is also scheduled to address the session on September 27, shortly after Mr. Modi’s speech.

•As the world commemorates Mahatma Gandhi’s 150th birth anniversary, Mr. Modi will also host a special event ‘Leadership Matters: Relevance of Gandhi in the Contemporary World’ on September 24 in the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) Chamber in the U.N. Headquarters.

📰 A U.S.-Iran detente could be on the cards

The exit of John Bolton, and Israel’s diminished influence on Washington, signal a possible reduction in tensions.

•If it is not Afghanistan then it must be Iran. U.S. President Donald Trump desperately needs a dramatic foreign policy breakthrough before the 2020 elections to establish his reputation as a strategist who can shape afresh the contours of American foreign policy. His love-fest with Kim Jong-un has petered out without producing any noticeable reduction in North Korea’s nuclear arsenal or any curbs on its ballistic missile programme. His attempt to get the Taliban to accept a ceasefire so that he could begin withdrawing American troops from Afghanistan, and thus fulfil the promise he had made during the 2016 election campaign, has also stalled because of Kabul’s opposition and the Taliban’s unwillingness to stop military action before a settlement is announced.

•This leaves Iran as the only arena where Mr. Trump can demonstrate his diplomatic dexterity even if it means returning to the status quo that had existed when President Barack Obama left office. However, Mr. Trump would like to add a dramatic flourish to turning the clock back.

•Some of Mr. Trump’s closest associates, especially the recently sacked National Security Advisor John Bolton, have been promoting a policy that amounted to advocating a regime change in Iran, even if by force. However, Mr. Trump is fundamentally averse to leading the U.S. into an open-ended war with Iran. This stance is prompted largely by his attachment to his campaign promise of bringing American soldiers home that garnered a significant number of votes for him in the last election. He, therefore, abhors the idea of sending more of them to the volatile West Asia.

Zarif’s visit to Biarritz

•These instincts were on display at the recently concluded G7 meeting in France following an unscheduled visit by Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif to Biarritz for talks with the French President Emmanuel Macron. President Macron announced at the conclave that a Trump-Rouhani meeting was likely to take place in the “coming weeks”.

•Mr. Trump said that he had no intention of imposing regime change on Iran and declared that under the right circumstances, he would certainly agree to a meeting with Mr. Rouhani.

•In a speech hours earlier, Mr. Rouhani had also signalled that he was willing to talk with Trump. He has since qualified his positive response by adding that he would meet Mr. Trump only after Washington lifted the sanctions re-imposed on Tehran after Mr. Trump pulled the U.S. out of the nuclear deal in 2018. But the signal that Iranian leaders are not averse to talking with their American counterparts has been sent by Tehran and received in Washington. In turn, Mr. Trump reciprocated by stating that he has no problem meeting with President Rouhani. “It could happen. It could happen. No problem with me,” he said earlier this week.

•Israel and John Bolton have been the two major obstacles to a direct encounter between the two Presidents as a prelude to a possible rapprochement between the U.S. and Iran. Mr. Trump, despite his close relationship with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, seems to have concluded that the Israeli leader is too dependent on the U.S. and especially on Mr. Trump to attempt to block such a meeting if he decides to go ahead with it. Mr. Netanyahu seemed to confirm this understanding this week when he stated: “Obviously, I don’t tell the U.S. President when to meet or with whom.”

Differences with Israel

•Nonetheless, this relative softening of their respective stands by the U.S. and Iran have worried the Israeli establishment. This is why, of late, Mr. Netanyahu has once again been making shrill noises about Iran’s nuclear weapons capability. He has even gone to the extent of identifying a nuclear facility near Isfahan that, according to him, the Iranians destroyed after he had made its existence public. In response Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif promptly tweeted: “The possessor of REAL nukes cries wolf — on an ALLEGED ‘demolished’ site in Iran.” It is clear that there is a fundamental disjuncture between American and Israeli objectives regarding Iran and recent events have begun to bring the fissures in American-Israeli approaches to this issue into the open.

•Mr. Bolton, an outspoken foreign policy hawk, has been the standard bearer of the hard line vis-à-vis Iran and is directly or indirectly responsible for many of the harshest measures adopted by the Trump administration in regard to Iran. He was also strongly opposed to the deal that Zalmay Khalilzad had worked out with the Taliban in order to begin an orderly withdrawal of American forces from Afghanistan. Mr. Bolton’s virulent opposition to any deal with Iran short of complete denuclearisation and regime change, both objectives beyond the realm of possibility, had angered Mr. Trump, especially because it ran counter to his instinctive antipathy toward getting involved in overseas military conflicts.

•However, the firing of John Bolton, when combined with the visible diminishing of Israeli influence on U.S. policy toward Iran, signals that Washington is interested in easing tensions with Tehran. This is confirmed by the Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s statement on September 10 that it was possible that a meeting between Mr. Trump and Mr. Rouhani could take place this month on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly session in New York. Such a meeting, even if it does not immediately resolve all the contentious bilateral issues, could form the beginning of a de-escalatory process that is likely to benefit both Washington and Tehran in the long run.

📰 All 16 nations set for final RCEP deal: Australian negotiator

•Amidst conflicting signals from the government over whether India will join the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) this year, Australia’s lead negotiator for the 16-nation free trade agreement (FTA) says all countries have “committed” to completing talks in time for the RCEP summit on November 1.

•“What I can tell you is that in Bangkok last weekend, all ministers including India reiterated their commitment to concluding the negotiations in full by the time of the leaders summit in November,” negotiator James Baxter said, referring to an RCEP trade ministers’ meeting held in Thailand on September 8, attended by Union Commerce Minister Piyush Goyal.

•On Friday, negotiating teams and diplomats from all 16 RCEP countries which include the 10 ASEAN states, and six ASEAN-FTA partners China, India, Australia, New Zealand, Japan and South Korea, will meet for a “Track 1.5” round table on “Global and Regional Trade and Economic Integration Issues”. The meeting will be inaugurated by Minister of State for Commerce & Industry, Hardeep Singh Puri, who is expected to articulate India’s continuing concerns about signing on to the agreement.

•India is seeking a mechanism to ‘cap’ imports as a safeguard measure in case its withdrawal of tariffs under RCEP leads to a sudden surge in goods flooding the Indian market. Other sticking points have been over a dual tariff mechanism for countries India doesn’t have an FTA with like China, and the rest, as well as the need for freedom of movement for services from India to the other countries. With Australia and New Zealand in particular, India has been negotiating on agricultural and dairy imports.

•RCEP negotiations are now in the home-stretch with only “a small number of critical issues outstanding” between the 16 countries, say officials involved in the discussions. Of 29 parts of the agreement including the preamble, chapters on rule and market access and annexes, only about 12 parts remain incomplete. Seven chapters have been fully concluded, and two others are nearly concluded.

•When asked if India, as the only outlier from RCEP, will be left out of the agreement or asked to join it later, Mr. Baxter said categorically that there has been “no discussion” on either concluding the deal with one or more member being left out, nor are there any RCEP talks on for an “early harvest” or partial agreement, indicating that the group expects to see full support for the final agreement when leaders of all RCEP nations attend the summit in seven weeks in Thailand. Before that, Mr. Goyal and other trade ministers are expected to meet atleast once more to finalise details of the agreement.

•Mr. Baxter’s comments came as the two key ministers dealing with the negotiations sent out mixed messages over joining RCEP. Speaking in Singapore, External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar said that India still has “reservations” about joining RCEP. “The big concerns of India are, of course, one, its relationship with China because we have an enormous trade deficit with China,” Mr. Jaishankar said when asked about India’s stand.

•Speaking to journalists in Delhi a day later, however, Mr. Goyal sounded more positive about the agreement and said that the “National interest can’t be hijacked by one or two industries... Maximum interests should be protected.” Mr. Goyal also pointed out that while several trade groups were worried about RCEP, the industry was “split down the middle”, with cotton and textile companies welcoming the new market access that RCEP will bring.

•If completed, RCEP will be the world’s biggest FTA, comprising countries that make up 45% of the world’s population with 33% of its GDP, and at least 28% of all trade in the world today, which are projected to form half the world’s GDP by 2050. While several labour groups and industry bodies have lobbied against the agreement and argued for more protection, several economists have pointed out that not joining the RCEP will cut India out of the world’s biggest trade bloc. A final decision is expected closer to the summit, just ahead of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Thailand on November 1.

📰 Do not leave ungoverned spaces in Afghanistan: India

They could become breeding ground for terrorists and sponsors of terrorism, it says

•Peace negotiation in Afghanistan should not leave ungoverned spaces that could become breeding ground for terrorists and sponsors of terrorism, India said on Thursday. Its concerns were expressed by an official of the Ministry of External Affairs days after U.S. President Donald Trump called off talks with the Taliban in the Qatari capital Doha after a bomb attack in Kabul.

•“Our position is that any process should respect the constitutional legacy and mandate, should not leave any ungoverned spaces where terrorists and their proxies would relocate. We are reasonably confident that any decision on the peace process which is being taken by the international community including the U.S. will accommodate our concerns. We have conveyed these concerns in regular intervals including with the Special Envoy several times in the past few months,” said official spokesperson of the Ministry Raveesh Kumar.

•India has extended support to Afghanistan’s government led by President Ashraf Ghani over a range of activities including building infrastructure and the domain of security. New Delhi had maintained silence after President Trump had abruptly cancelled the talks. The Taliban group had travelled to Russia and China and had held talks with multiple countries in the Gulf. However, India has indicated that it favours an “Afghan-led and Afghan-owned” peace talks.

•“We are following the developments including the talks between the Taiban and the U.S. very closely. We believe all sections of the Afghan society including the legitimately elected Afghan government should be part of this process. We have supported the election to unfold later this month,” said Mr. Kumar.

•He said there had been no change in the position on Afghan talks and New Delhi continued to demand a broad-based political discussion to ensure long term peace and political stability.

📰 Show flexibility on Kartarpur corridor, India urges Pakistan

The first one is on their insistence to charge $20 per pilgrim, says Delhi

•India on Thursday urged Pakistan to show flexibility regarding some outstanding issues in the Kartarpur corridor project that would allow pilgrims to travel to the famed Gurudwara across the border in Pakistan.

•“The first one is on their insistence to charge $20 per pilgrim. This was strongly opposed by our side. They also did not agree to the initial number — 10,000 pilgrims that we proposed. Third we have not received favourable response on the presence of the consular officer who should accompany the pilgrims,” said Raveesh Kumar, official spokesperson of the Ministry of External Affairs during the weekly media interaction.

•The statement came after India and Pakistan teams met at Attari on September 4 as part of the ongoing consultation for the project. The meeting had failed to finalise the agreement due to the “differences” as reiterated by the spokesperson. He said the payment was not brought up before the September 4 meeting.

•Pakistan had urged for another round within a few days to deal with the differences. But on Thursday morning, its Foreign Office reiterated that the pilgrims would be required to pay $20. Construction work is on on both sides to facilitate access of the famed pilgrimage site by the first week of November when the 550th birth anniversary festivities of Guru Nanak would begin at Kartarpur.

•The dialogue on the corridor has remained unaffected by the current tension over Kashmir as both sides have shown commitment to maintain pace of work for the building of the infrastructure. The MEA spokesperson said Pakistan should reconsider its stance on the pending issues as the project was related to the special sentiments of the pilgrims.

📰 NATGRID wants to link social media accounts to central database

•The ambitious National Intelligence Grid (NATGRID) project wants to link social media accounts to the huge database of records related to immigration entry and exit, banking and telephone details among others.

•The project, initially started in 2009 with a budget of ₹2,800 crore, is an online database for collating scattered pieces of information and putting them on one platform. At least 10 central agencies like Intelligence Bureau (IB), Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW) and others will have access to the data on a secured platform.

•The proposal has received resistance from the intelligence agencies, whose officials fear that linking the social media accounts to sensitive government data could expose the system to “trojan attacks.”

•Home Minister Amit Shah reviewed the progress of NATGRID at North Block on Thursday.

•The project gathered pace in 2016, when the NDA government appointed an IB officer Ashok Patnaik as the Chief Executive Officer (CEO). After Mr. Patnaik retired, NATGRID is now headed by IAS officer Ashish Gupta.

•Mr. Shah was given a presentation on the present status of NATGRID but no decision was taken on structural issues.

•An official explained that NATGRID links intelligence and investigation agencies.

•The 10 user agencies will be linked independently with certain databases that would be procured from 21 providing organisations and include telecom, tax records, bank, immigration, etc. to enable the generation of intelligence inputs.

•“Linking the database to social media accounts could jeopardise the entire exercise as it could be exposed to unknown virus attacks from open source Internet,” a senior government official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

•Intelligence agencies had also earlier opposed the NATGRID itself amid fears that it would impinge on their territory and possibly result in leaks on the leads they were working on to other agencies.

•An expression of interest (EOI) issued by NATGRID in 2017 had said “NATGRID is intending to set up an Entity Extraction, Visualization and Analytics (EVA) system that would collect and analyse information available from various data sources.”

•While NATGRID’s data recovery centre in Bengaluru has been constructed, its office complex in South Delhi is nearing completion.

•In January, NATGRID revived its EOI to select a System Integrator (SI) to provide a software solution, recommend hardware specification for running the solution and integrating and implementing the composite EVA solution. The EOI specified that the company bidding for the project should have a turnover of at least ₹1,600 crore.

📰 Futile fines: On traffic violation penalties

Better enforcement and infrastructure are key to mitigating anger over higher road fines

•The steep penalties for violation of road rules that came into force on September 1 under the Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Act, 2019 have produced a backlash, with several State governments opting to reduce the quantum of fines, or even to reject the new provisions. Gujarat has announced a substantial reduction in the fines, West Bengal has refused to adopt the higher penalties, Karnataka and Kerala are studying the prospects to make the provisions less stringent, and others are proceeding with caution. Motorists have reacted with outrage at the imposition of fines by the police, obviously upset at State governments pursuing enforcement without upgrading road infrastructure and making administrative arrangements for issue of transport documents. Union Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari has reiterated that it is left to the States to choose the quantum of fines, since it is their responsibility to bring about deterrence and protect the lives of citizens. Mr. Gadkari’s argument is valid, and the intent behind amending the Motor Vehicles Act cannot be faulted. After all, India has some of the deadliest roads in the world, and 1,47,913 people died in road accidents only during 2017. The question that has arisen is whether enhanced fines can radically change this record when other determinants, beginning with administrative reform, remain untouched.

•The core of reform lies in Section 198(A) of the amended law, which requires any designated authority, contractor, consultant or concessionaire responsible for design or construction or maintenance of the safety standards of the road to meet those laid down by the Central government. This provision, which prescribes a penalty for a violation leading to death or disability, can be enforced through litigation by road users in all States. Since the standards are laid down, compliance should be ensured without waiting for a road accident to prove it. Until infrastructure meets legal requirements, fines and enforcement action are naturally liable to be challenged in courts; the condition of roads, traffic signals, signage and cautionary markings which affect motorists, cyclists and pedestrians, would all fall within its ambit. State governments also cannot escape responsibility for failing to reform their Regional Transport Authorities, since these offices are generally steeped in corruption. The Transport Ministry could well have made electronic delivery of RTO services mandatory, something that a lapsed UPA-era Bill promised. It should act on this now. Ultimately, ending the culture of impunity that allows government vehicles and VIPs to ignore road rules will encourage the average citizen to follow them. Mr. Gadkari should lose no time in forming the National Road Safety Board to recommend important changes to infrastructure and to enable professional accident investigation.

📰 Supreme Court continues its stay on eviction of lakhs of forest dwellers

Their claims for forest land rights have been rejected under the Forest Rights Act of 2006

•The Supreme Court on Thursday continued its stay on the eviction of lakhs of Scheduled Tribes and other traditional forest dwellers whose claims for forest land rights have been rejected under the Forest Rights Act (FRA) of 2006.

•A Bench led by Justice Arun Mishra posted the case for hearing on November 26 and said the stay order first issued on February 28 would continue.

•The Bench referred to how resorts and illegal structures have encroached on forest lands and led to the depletion of the green cover. Senior advocate Sanjay Parikh, appearing for one of the parties, said the focus should be on the lakhs of forest dwellers who face eviction.

•The court said “the mighty and the undeserving” who had encroached on forest lands would be shown no mercy.

Due process

•While issuing the stay order on eviction on February 28, the court had acknowledged the need to further delve into whether due process was followed by gram sabhas and States’ authorities under the FRA before the claims for forest rights of forest-dwelling Scheduled Tribes (FDSTs) and other traditional forest dwellers (OTFD) were finally rejected.

•More than 11 lakh people from the STs and OTFDs across 16 States faced the brunt of the apex court’s February 13 eviction order.

•The apex court gave the States further time to file affidavits responding to complaints that there was a high rate of rejection of claims, non-communication of rejection orders, unrealistic timelines in deciding claims, irregular holding of State Level Monitoring Committee meetings, lack of support from the district administrations concerned in providing revenue or forest maps, rejection of claims despite incomplete or insufficient evidence, etc. In fact, the court now wants to know whether tribals and OTFDs were ousted from forest lands on the basis of sketchy, incomplete information and data.

Centre’s stand

•The February 13 eviction order was stayed on February 28 after the Centre moved the apex court to modify the former order.

•The government had said the eviction order would affect a “large number of families”.

•“The eviction of the tribals may be withheld... the eviction of tribals, without such information, would cause serious prejudice to them who have been residing in forests for generations... Many are poor and illiterate,” the Centre had submitted.