The HINDU Notes – 18th January 2020 - VISION

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Sunday, January 19, 2020

The HINDU Notes – 18th January 2020

📰 GSAT-30 gives India a communication boost

The 3,357-kg satellite, launched from Kourou, will replace the ageing INSAT-4A

•The nation’s latest communication satellite, GSAT-30, was launched into space from the Guiana Space Centre in Kourou at 2:35 a.m. IST on Friday.

•The 3,357-kg satellite will replace INSAT-4A which was launched in 2005 and marks the first mission of the year for Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO).

•The high-power satellite is equipped with 12 normal C band and 12 Ku band transponders.

•ISRO quoted its Chairman K. Sivan as saying, “GSAT-30 will provide DTH [direct to home] television services, connectivity to VSATs [that support working of banks] ATMs, stock exchange, television uplinking and teleport services, digital satellite news gathering and e-governance applications. The satellite will also be used for bulk data transfer.”

•ISRO opted for a foreign launch as the GSAT-30 is much heavier than the 2,000-kg lifting capacity of its geostationary launch vehicle GSLV-MkII.

•While the newer and more powerful GSLV-MkIII that can lift up to 4,000 kg, the space agency plans to save the two or three upcoming MkIIIs for its first human space flight Gaganyaan of 2022 and two preceding crew-less trials, Dr. Sivan recently said.

•The first Indian crew-less test flight is planned for later this year.

📰 Repeal CAA, Punjab urges Centre in House resolution

SAD opposes resolution but maintains that Muslims should be included in CAA for granting citizenship.

•The Punjab Legislative Assembly on Friday passed a resolution, urging the Union government to repeal the contentious Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) and terming the ideology behind the amended Act as “'inherently discriminatory”'. 

•Chief Minister Capt. Amarinder Singh later told journalists that the State government, like Kerala, would approach the Supreme Court on the CAA issue.

•In the Assembly, the resolution was moved by Parliamentary Affairs Minister Brahm Mohindra during the second day of the special session of the House. It was supported by the Congress, the Aam Aadmi Party and Lok Insaf Party (LIP) MLAs Balwinder Singh Bains and Simarjit Singh Bains . 

•The Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) and BJP members opposed the resolution. The SAD, however, maintained that Muslims should be included in the CAA for granting citizenship. 

•During the discussion in the House, the Chief Minister termed the controversial legislation as ‘inherently discriminatory’ and a negation of the very secular fabric on which the Constitution of India is based. He compared the CAA with ethnic and religious cleansing of Hitler’s Germany. “Clearly, no lessons had been learnt from history,” he said. 

•Capt. Amarinder said, “What happened in Germany under Hitler in 1930 is happening in India now. Germans did not speak then and they regretted it, but we have to speak now so that we don’t regret later,” he asserted. He urged the Opposition, particularly the Akalis, to read Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf to understand the ‘dangers’ of the CAA.

•The resolution urged the Centre to put on hold the National Population Register (NPR) work till forms-documents associated with it are amended suitably, in order to allay apprehensions that it is a prelude to a nation-wide National Register of Citizens (NRC) and designed to deprive a section of persons from citizenship of India and implement the CAA.

•The resolution pointed to the omission of Muslims and such other communities as Jews from the ambit of citizenship under the CAA and asked for its repeal “to avoid any discrimination on the basis of religion in granting citizenship and to ensure equality before law for all religious groups in India.”

•Finance Minister and senior Congress leader Manpreet Badal said granting Citizenship under the CAA should not be based on religion, which was against the basic feature of the Constitution. “Why the CAA does not have provision to give citizenship to those from Sri Lanka, Bhutan and Burma [Myanmar]? ," he quipped. 

•SAD MLA Bikram Singh Majithia said the party was against any move to implement NRC. 

•Outside the House, Capt. Amarinder said the Centre would have to make the necessary amendments to the CAA if it had to be implemented in Punjab and the other States opposing it. “Like Kerala, my government would also approach the Supreme Court on the issue,” he said.

•In response to a question, he made it clear that the census in Punjab would be conducted on the old parameters and the new factors added by the Centre for the purpose of the NPR would not be included.

📰 ‘2020 will be an important year for Indo-U.S. relations’

2+2 talks’ decisions will be implemented, says senior official

•As U.S. officials finalise venues and dates of President Donald Trump’s likely visit, an official said the focus of the Indo-U.S. engagements this year would be to implement decisions taken during the 2+2 meeting between Defence and Foreign Ministers in December 2019 and on trade.

•“This is going to be an important year for India-U.S. relations. Especially in the first half of the year, we expect to put into practice many of the decisions taken during the 2+2 talks,” a senior Trump administration official told The Hindu , while briefing journalists in Delhi. The official would not, however, confirm the dates of the visit, which has not been formally announced.

•The Hindu had reported earlier this week that officials are discussing a possible visit next month, around February 24, and the American security and administration officials are undertaking a series of reconnaissance visits over the next week

•One of the major objectives of the 2+2 talks between Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo, Secretary of Defense Mark T. Esper with Minister of External Affairs S. Jaishankar and Defence Minister Rajnath Singh was furthering cooperation on a “free and open Indo-Pacific”, said the official.

BDN ‘rating mechanism’

•During the talks in Washington, both countries had agreed to “promote practical cooperation in infrastructure development, counter-terrorism, cyber security and regional connectivity.” To that end, the U.S. has launched a “Blue Dot Network” (BDN), which has already taken Japan and Australia on board to encourage private investment in infrastructure projects. The network is “ratings mechanism” that would grade infrastructure projects in the Indo-Pacific region on different parameters to ensure transparency and is planned as direct counter to China’s Belt and Road Initiative. However, unlike the BRI, the BDN would not offer public funds or loans for the project.

•The official said he hoped India, which has refused to join China’s BRI, would join the U.S.-led BDN. “India has as much a role as it wants on the Blue Dot Network (BDN). It is as open as a Michelin standard for restaurants. We are hoping to build support for this initiative to grade infrastructure projects on debt, environmental standards, labour standards, etc. These would apply to projects in any citizen-centric country, where citizens would like to evaluate these projects,” the official said.

📰 One government proposes, the next disposes

Newly-elected regimes have the right to review potentially unjust contracts and projects — but only with good reasons

•Since sweeping to power in Andhra Pradesh last May, Chief Minister Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy and his YSR Congress Party (YSRCP) government have cancelled or put on hold a number of high-profile State contracts and projects, many involving foreign partners who now face huge losses. Officials say reviewing commitments made by the previous government will increase accountability and decrease corruption in the State, but outside critics fear that the goal is to refashion deals to benefit new government officials and their supporters. Analysts caution that it will be extremely hard for the State to attract foreign investors in future.

The fallout

•Other newly elected State governments (most recently Maharashtra) are also considering cancelling public work commitments made by their predecessors. However, is it prudent to risk alienating current and potential investors? In the case of Andhra Pradesh, potentially at risk is the reputation of what has been considered one of the most business-friendly States in India. Without investments, it will be harder for the State to raise the revenues it needs for social programmes and economic development. Further, if more States follow suit, the dependability of India as a foreign direct investment destination may be negatively affected.

The case of Amaravati

•On their face, some of the Jagan government’s actions have merit, most notably in the case of planning for Amaravati, the proposed new State capital city, by Mr. Jagan’s predecessor, N. Chandrababu Naidu and President of the Telugu Desam Party. The project of Mr. Naidu, the then-Chief Minister, was always exceedingly ambitious and never without controversy. As Chief Minister from 1995-2004, Mr. Naidu oversaw the growth of the then-united Andhra Pradesh capital of Hyderabad into a major information technology and pharma centre. But Hyderabad was already a functioning metropolis.

•For Amaravati, Mr. Naidu was trying to transform a rural area into a massive, advanced greenfield city. In doing so, he rejected recommendations from a Central government expert committee to expand an existing city in the State, instead choosing a reportedly flood-prone area well away from the nearest significant population centre. Funding was never assured, even with Central government money, private bonds, and loan pledges by the World Bank and Indian government building authorities. There were rumours too of slow decision-making and lack of focus by the then-State government, and disagreements with two prominent architectural firms working on the project. Today, over four years after Prime Minister Narendra Modi laid Amaravati’s foundation stone, little is there save a number of temporary government office buildings.

•The cancellation, by Andhra Pradesh, of a convention and hotel complex in Visakhapatnam awarded to the Lulu Group (United Arab Emirates) at allegedly uncompetitive pricing was even praised by the head of the State’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Nor is Andhra Pradesh the only Indian State to attempt to renegotiate existing power purchase agreements in the light of falling power prices and consumption: Karnataka and Gujarat have done the same.

•The new Chief Minister and his government also face external hurdles to attracting investment. As Mr. Jagan himself has noted, the Central government reneged on a previous promise to grant Andhra Pradesh “Special Category Status”, which would have enabled the State to provide tax holidays to new investors. Another issue is the State’s lack of a sizeable metropolitan centre for the foreseeable future, with or without Amaravati. Neighbouring business-friendly Hyderabad has attracted many ambitious Andhra Pradesh residents and foreign investors. These obstacles also made the Naidu government’s schemes to attract investment fall short, with few notable exceptions such as the Sri City manufacturing hub. Many investments announced during the Naidu era, such as a Tesla-created energy grid, failed to materialise.

•During my last year in India, I was fortunate to have met Mr. Jagan. I was struck by the seriousness with which he said he planned to create a better future for all people in Andhra Pradesh. However, were I able to advise him today I would suggest that cancelling multiple high-profile public projects may imperil his ability to deliver on his most important goal: to create new jobs and opportunities in the State.

A checklist

•First, cancellations risk exposing the State to potentially costly and damaging legal challenges. The relative lack of information about how the reviews are being made, and whether stakeholders have a real voice in the outcome, will likely be a concern to investors.

•Second, investors look to the overall commercial environment before deciding whether to commit funds. In addition to project cancellations, the YSRCP government has made other reversals, including challenging the contracts awarded towards the massive national Polavaram dam project, sacking a large number of Naidu-era State bureaucrats, and restricting liquor licences and sales. Investors may regard the number and fast pace of dismantling prior government policies and programmes, no matter how justified, as signals that Andhra Pradesh is changing from an ease of doing business leader to a less transparent, predictable, and open economy. Andhra Pradesh and other States should rather create governing rules and bureaucracies that are more durable than any one leader or administration. Establishing procurement regimes that allow for open tendering, stakeholder engagement, and outside audits would reassure domestic and foreign investors that governments are fair and open to all for business.

•Third, any new Indian State government must take into account the Modi government’s encouragement of competitive federalism. Increased numbers of potential Indian business destinations mean that investors can look elsewhere if things in any State get tough. Granted, there is room for improvement in how the Central government encourages more States to liberalise commerce. The government could for example provide fiscal rewards to States that reduce investment barriers, even if the State is not BJP-led.

•Newly-elected governments certainly have the right to review potentially unjust or unwarranted deals. However, a State must be careful to provide explicit and clear evidence when making its case to trigger such reviews; it must also make clear which prior projects were reviewed and found to be sound. Recent events in Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra — two of India’s largest State economies — have chilled investor enthusiasm just as the Indian economy slows. Indian States and the Central government have a shared interest in reversing this trend.