The HINDU Notes – 05th February 2020 - VISION

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Wednesday, February 05, 2020

The HINDU Notes – 05th February 2020

📰 No decision yet on pan-India NRC, Minister tells Parliament

During NPR, no verification of citizenship or document collection: Nityanand Rai

•The government informed the Lok Sabha on Tuesday that till now it “has not taken any decision to prepare National Register of Citizens (NRC) at the national level.”

•Minister of State for Home Nityanand Rai was responding to a question by Lok Janshakti Party’s (LJP) Chandan Singh and Telengana Rashtra Samithi’s (TRS) Nama Nageswara Rao on whether the government had any plans to introduce the NRC all over the country.

•While replying to another question, Mr. Rai said the “government is in discussion with the States having concerns in regard to the preparation of National Population Register (NPR)”.

•Mr. Rai said in a written reply that “during the exercise of updation of NPR, no verification is done to find individuals whose citizenship is doubtful”.

•Several Opposition-ruled States have vociferously opposed the NPR, slated to begin from April 1 onwards along with the decennial Census. According to the Citizenship Rules, 2003, the NPR is the first step towards the compilation of the NRC.

Form not finalised

•The NPR form is yet to be finalised and notified but the trial form last year collected details from 30 lakh respondents on 21 parameters, including the place of birth of father and mother and the last place of residence.

•On December 9 last year, Union Home Minister Amit Shah had told Parliament that “there is no need to create a background for NRC; we are clear that NRC ought to be done in this country, our manifesto is the background.”

•To a question on whether the government had finalised the questionnaire for the NPR, Mr. Rai said, “The demographic and other particulars of each family and individual are to be updated/collected during the exercise of updation of NPR. No document is to be collected during this exercise.”

📰 Why no action on pleas on T.N. MLAs’ disqualification, asks SC

Court gives Speaker a week to inform when he will decide

•The Supreme Court on Tuesday gave Tamil Nadu Speaker P. Dhanapal a week’s time to inform when he will take cognisance of the disqualification petitions filed under the Tenth Schedule (anti-defection law) against Deputy Chief Minister O. Panneerselvam and 10 other AIADMK MLAs for voting against the confidence motion moved by Chief Minister Edappadi Palaniswami in February 2017.

•A three-judge Bench, led by Chief Justice of India S.A. Bobde, asked Tamil Nadu Advocate General Vijay Narayan and Additional Advocate General Jayanth Muthuraj to confer with the Speaker and report back on February 14.

•The court questioned the Speaker’s inaction, repeatedly asking why he kept the disqualification petitions pending for three whole years without even issuing notice.

Three-year delay

•“The three-year delay was unnecessary. You [Speaker] needed to have taken action. Prime facie , if there is inaction on the part of the Speaker, it has to be cured,” Chief Justice Bobde addressed Mr. Narayan. However, the court made it clear that it had no intention to “go wandering into the Speaker’s jurisdiction” of deciding anti-defection petitions.

📰 Continuity and fiscal follow-through

The 15th Finance Commission, by and large, has gone with the approach and methodology of earlier Commissions

•The appointment of the Fifteenth Finance Commission by the President of India under Article 280 of the Constitution was notified on November 27, 2017. It was required to submit the report by October 30, 2019 for five years for the period 2020-21 to 2024-25. However, due to various political and fiscal developments, notifications were issued first, on July 27 extending the tenure of the Commission up to November 30, 2019, and again on November 29 requiring it to submit two reports, one for 2020-21 and the second covering the period of five years beginning April 1, 2021 and further extending the tenure up to October 30, 2021. The first report submitted by the Commission was placed in Parliament by the Union Finance Minister before presenting the Union Budget on February 1, 2019.

Basis for extension

•There were good reasons for extending the tenure of the Finance Commission as making medium-term projections in the current scenario would have entailed serious risks. First, the abolition of Statehood to Jammu and Kashmir required the Commission to make an estimation excluding the Union Territory. Second, the deceleration in growth and low inflation has substantially slowed down the nominal GDP growth which is the main tax base proxy; making projections of tax revenues and expenditures based on this for the medium term could have posed serious risks. Finally, poor revenue performance of tax collection and more particularly Goods and Services Tax combined with the fact that the compensation agreement to the loss of revenue to the States was effective only two years of the period covered by the Commission’s recommendations posed uncertainties.

On projections

•The Commission has continued with the approach and methodology adopted by the previous Commissions for tax devolution and revenue-gap grants. It has made projections of revenues and revenue expenditures of the Union and individual States, applied selective norms to the latter, recommended devolution of taxes to the States from the divisible pool, and recommended revenue deficit grants for the States which had post-devolution gaps. Although there were apprehensions that it may deviate from past practice as the terms of reference of the Commission had indicated, “The Commission may also examine whether revenue deficit grants be provided at all”, it continued with the past practice.

•By stating that, “…stability and predictability of resources is an essential component of good long-term budgeting for both Union and States”, the Fifteenth Finance Commission continued with the recommendation of the previous Commission relating to vertical division of taxes, and adjusted the States’ share to 41% to exclude the share of Jammu and Kashmir. There were media reports that the share would be reduced and by maintaining the share, the Commission has avoided controversy.

•However, for the period 2021-25, it has stated: “Our recommendation in the final report would undergo changes and adjustments as appropriate, in the light of subsequent data and analysis”. For the horizontal shares, however, the formula has been changed to consider “fiscal needs, equity and efficiency”.

Addressing States’ concerns

•In addition to income distance, population and area and forest cover, it has used two additional factors — demographic performance and tax effort. It has assigned 15% weight to the 2011 population, reduced the weight of income distance to 45%, increased the weight to forest cover and ecology to 10% and 12.5% weight to demographic performance and 2.5% weight to tax effort. There was considerable controversy over the terms of reference of the Commission requiring it to use 2011 population in its formula by the States that had taken initiatives to arrest population growth.

•By keeping the weight of 2011 population at 15% and giving an additional 12.5% to demographic performance which is the inverse of fertility rate, the Commission has shown sensitivity to the concerns of these States.

•In terms of relative shares in tax devolution, among the major States the biggest loser is Karnataka followed by Uttar Pradesh, Kerala, Telangana and Andhra Pradesh. Kerala and Andhra Pradesh have post-devolution gaps and hence qualify for revenue gap grants. The major reason for Karnataka and Kerala losing on devolution is that their per capita income growth has been faster than most other States. The difference from the highest per capita income in both Karnataka and Kerala is just about 10% now as compared to 34% and 23%, respectively, for the two States when the Fourteenth Finance Commission made the recommendation. In the case of Karnataka and Telangana, as the projected transfer (devolution and revenue-gap grants) in 2020-21 were lower than 2019-20, the Commission recommended a special grant of Rs. 5,495 crore and Rs. 723 crore, respectively. However, the government has not accepted the recommendation and has asked the Commission to reconsider it.

Local body grants

•The recommended grants for local bodies amount to Rs. 90,000 crore comprising Rs. 60,750 crore for panchayats and the remaining Rs. 29,250 crore for municipal bodies. All the three layers of panchayats will receive the grant and 50% of the grant is tied to improving sanitation and supply of drinking water; the remaining is untied. In the case of municipal bodies, Rs. 9,229 crore is allocated to cities with a million-plus population and the remaining Rs. 20,021 is allocated to other towns. In the case of disaster relief, the Commission has recommended the creation of disaster mitigation fund at the Central and State levels. For disaster management, a total of Rs. 28,183 crore has been determined of which the Central contribution will be Rs. 22,184 crore. Inter-State allocation is made based on past expenditures, area and population and disaster risk index.

•The Commission has worked out a framework for giving some sectoral grants as well. For 2020-21, it has recommended Rs. 7,735 crore for improving nutrition based on the numbers of children in the 0-6 age group and lactating mothers. In the main report, it has proposed to give grants for police training, modernisation and housing, railway projects in States taken on a cost-sharing basis, maintenance of the Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana roads, strengthening the judicial system, and improving the statistical system. The States are required to prepare the necessary grounds. It has also presented a broad framework for recommending monitorable performance grants for agricultural reform, development of aspirational districts and blocks, power sector reform, and incentives to enhance trade including exports and pre-primary education. The challenge, however, will be to design and dovetail sectoral and performance grants with the existing plethora of central sector and centrally sponsored schemes.

📰 A case of a maritime presence adrift

India’s negligible presence and interventions in the International Maritime Organization is affecting its interests

•As the millennium dawned, the world feared that computers would crash because of the Y2K bug. Twenty years later, as 2020 kicked in, there were fears that merchant ships would sputter to a halt, disrupting world trade.

•The reason? The International Maritime Organization (IMO), the United Nations agency tasked with regulating shipping, had mandated that merchant ships should not burn fuel with sulphur content greater than 0.5% beginning January 1.

•Before the ban, fuel had a comfortable sulphur content limit of 3.5%, which was applicable to most parts of the world. Despite the industry gradually gearing up to introduce the new fuel, many industry professionals feared that the new very-low-sulphur fuel would be incompatible with the engines and other vessel equipment.

•Past mandates on sulphur limits in American waters had led to many technical problems. There have been instances of ships having been stranded after fine particles separated out from the fuel, damaging equipment and clogging up devices.

•This has not happened so far. But the global sulphur cap is only one of the many environment-related regulations that have been shaking up the shipping industry; the industry is generally risk-averse and slow to accept changes. For instance, efforts are ongoing to reduce nitrogen oxides (NOx) and ozone-depleting gases. Further, the IMO has announced an ambitious project to decarbonise shipping in order to reduce carbon emissions. These regulations are triggering massive technological, operational and structural changes; they come at a price which will have to be borne to a large extent by developing countries such as India.

•The IMO currently lists India as among the 10 states with the “largest interest in international seaborne trade”. But India’s participation in the IMO to advance its national interests has been desultory and woefully inadequate.

Global regulator

•Shipping, which accounts for over 90% by volume and about 80% by value of global trade, is a highly regulated industry with a range of legislation promulgated by the IMO.

•The IMO currently has 174 member states and three associate members; there are also scores of non-governmental and inter-governmental organisations.

•The IMO’s policies or conventions have a serious impact on every aspect of shipping including the cost of maritime trade. The sulphur cap, for instance, will reduce emissions and reduce the health impact on coastal populations but ship operational costs are going up since the new fuel product is more expensive. As refineries including those in India struggle to meet the demand, freight costs have started moving up, with a cascading effect on retail prices.

•The IMO, like any other UN agency, is primarily a secretariat, which facilitates decision-making processes on all maritime matters through meetings of member states. The binding instruments are brought in through the conventions — to which member states sign on to for compliance — as well as amendments to the same and related codes.

•Structurally, maritime matters are dealt by the committees of the IMO — the Maritime Safety Committee (MSC), Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC), Technical Cooperation Committee, Legal Committee and the Facilitation Committee. Each committee is designated a separate aspect of shipping and supported by sub-committees. Working groups and correspondence groups support the subcommittees.

•The subcommittees are the main working organs, where the proposals from a member state are parsed before they are forwarded to one of the main committees. The main committees, thereafter, with the nod of the Assembly, put the approved proposal for enactment through the Convention, amendments, and codes or circulars.

•Prominent maritime nations have their permanent representatives at London and are supported by a large contingent (of domain experts from their maritime administration, seafarers and industry associations) during the meetings. They ensure that they have representation in every subcommittee, working group and even correspondence groups so that they are clued in. Lobbying is key while event sponsorship generates goodwill and support.

A feeble voice

•To ensure that their maritime interests are protected, the European countries move their proposals in unison and voting or support are given en bloc. China, Japan, Singapore, Korea and a few others represent their interests through their permanent representative as well as ensuring that a large delegation takes part and intervenes in the meetings.

•While these countries have fiercely protected their interests, India has not. For example, its permanent representative post at London has remained vacant for the last 25 years. Representation at meetings is often through a skeletal delegation, approved by the Ministry. Participation in IMO meetings is seen more as a junket. A review of IMO documents shows that the number of submissions made by India in the recent past has been measly and not in proportion to India’s stakes in global shipping.

•There have also been obstacles in pushing issues which are of importance to India. A classic case was the promulgation of “High Risk Areas” when piracy was at its peak and dominated media headlines.

•The IMO’s demarcation resulted in half the Arabian Sea and virtually the entire south-west coast of India being seen as piracy-infested, despite the presence of the Indian Navy and Coast Guard. The “Enrica Lexie” shooting incident of 2012, off the coast of Kerala was a direct fallout of the demarcation.

•The “High Risk Area” formulation led to a ballooning of insurance costs; it affected goods coming into or out of India. It took great efforts to revoke the promulgation and negate the financial burden. The episode highlighted India’s apathy and inadequate representation at the IMO. There was also great difficulty in introducing the indigenously designed NavIC (NAVigation with Indian Constellation) in the worldwide maritime navigation system.

•In contrast, the European Union has a documented procedure on how to influence the IMO. New legislative mandates, fitment of new equipment and changes to ship structural designs being brought on have been driven by developed countries. They are not entirely pragmatic from the point of view of India’s interests. Further, it will not be mere speculation to see them as efforts to push products and companies based in the West.

•So far, India’s presence and participation in the IMO has been at the individual level. India should now make its presence felt so that its national interests are served. It is time India regained its status as a major maritime power.

📰 Navy to the rescue

As natural calamities in the Indian Ocean Region become more frequent, India’s regional security role is likely to grow

•Earlier this week, India sent an amphibious warship, INS Airavat, to Madagascar in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) to help in rescue efforts after the island nation was hit by a cyclone. As part of Operation Vanilla, the Navy delivered clothing, food and medicines, and also provided diving and communication assistance for evacuation. The move follows an appeal by Madagascar President Andry Rajoelina for international help to deal with an unprecedented situation caused by floods.

Component of peacetime strategy

•New Delhi’s prompt response doesn’t come as a surprise. In recent years, humanitarian operations have emerged as a key component of the Indian Navy’s peacetime strategy in the IOR. In March 2019, the Navy deployed four warships for relief operations when Mozambique was hit by Cyclone Idai. Indian naval teams played a stellar role in search and rescue operations and even set up medical camps. A few months later, the Navy sent two warships to Japan to assist in rescue efforts following Typhoon Hagibis.

•A year earlier, Indian vessels had delivered urgent medical assistance to Sulawesi, Indonesia, after it was struck by a high-intensity earthquake. Operation Samudra Maitri was launched after a telephonic conversation between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Indonesian President Joko Widodo, with naval planners mobilising assets and relief material in quick time. The Navy’s new humanitarian approach, many say, is a maritime manifestation of Mr. Modi’s vision for the IOR, christened SAGAR (Security And Growth for All in the Region).

•Yet the Navy’s turn towards human-centred maritime security isn’t recent. It was in the aftermath of the 2004 tsunami that naval commanders first recognised the importance of large-scale relief and rescue missions in the IOR. For over a decade, considerable resource and energy has been spent developing specialist capability and skills for naval humanitarian operations.

•What’s new today is New Delhi’s resolve to burnish its ‘regional security provider’ credentials. The Navy has reached out to countries across the Indo-Pacific region, with greater deployment of assets, personnel and specialist equipment, showcasing an ability to undertake complex and diverse missions. The highpoint of the Navy’s ‘benign’ efforts was the evacuation of over 1,500 Indian expatriates and 1,300 foreign nationals from Yemen in 2015 amid fighting for control of Aden. Three years later, Indian naval ships were in Yemen again, to evacuate 38 Indians stranded in the cyclone-hit Socotra Island.

•The Navy’s humanitarian impulse stems from a desire to be a linchpin of security in the IOR. At the core of the evolving operations philosophy is the concept of ‘first responder’, with the capability and willingness to provide assistance. Such an approach has the potential to create an extended sphere of Indian influence in the IOR. Naval leaders recognise that benign missions help project Indian soft power and extend New Delhi’s influence in the littorals. Prompt response during humanitarian crisis helps generate political goodwill in the neighbourhood.

Cause for caution

•Yet, there is cause for caution. While low-end naval assets in humanitarian mode create strategic equity for India, prolonged presence of front-line warships in foreign waters has the potential to make partners anxious. Naval power, experts underline, must be deployed discreetly, shaping perceptions in subtle ways. The key is to not let the underlying intent of a mission appear geopolitical.

•To ensure that motives aren’t misunderstood, and assistance provided is efficient and cost-effective, it is best to use dedicated disaster-relief platforms. However, unlike the U.S. and China that have in their inventory hospital ships fully equipped for medical assistance, India deploys regular warships and survey ships converted for medical aid. India’s improvised platforms do not match the U.S. Navy’s medical ship USNS Mercy or the People’s Liberation Army Navy’s Peace Ark that enable specialised medical services on a more visible scale.

•The Navy’s expanding array of humanitarian missions reveals a need for greater coordination with the Indo-Pacific navies – in particular the U.S. Navy, the Royal Australian Navy and the Japanese Self-Defense Forces — which possess significant experience and assets to mitigate humanitarian threats.

•As natural disasters in the IOR become more frequent and intense, India’s regional security role is likely to grow exponentially. At the forefront of disaster scenarios, the Indian Navy and Coast Guard would find themselves undertaking demanding missions. Humanitarian operations could serve as a springboard for a larger cooperative endeavour in the maritime commons.