The HINDU Notes – 05th March 2020 - VISION

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Thursday, March 05, 2020

The HINDU Notes – 05th March 2020

📰 ‘India committed to two-state solution’

Centre tells UN team on Palestine

•India has remained “steadfast” in its support for Palestinian rights and has consistently voted in favour of Palestine at the UN on “15 key resolutions”, said members of a key UN body, calling for New Delhi to play an “enhanced” role in the search for a solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict.

•A four-member delegation of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable rights of the Palestinian People said that during discussions with External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar, the government had reiterated its traditional stand on the issue.

•“We would like countries like India that have good relations with both Israel and Palestine, and are also attached to multilateral principles, to play a bigger role in the resolution of the issue,” Cheikh Niang, Chairman of the committee, who visited Delhi this week told presspersons. Mr. Niang explained that part of the reason for the first such country visit by the panel was that India was expected to become a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council for 2021-22.

•Asked about India’s recent votes that appeared to support Israel, including one at the UN’s ECOSOC in June 2019 which ended the consultative status for a Palestinian NGO that Israel claimed had terror links, the committee members said those actions were not reflective of India’s stand on the resolution of the Israel-Palestine conflict.

•They pointed to several other votes by India, including the UN General Assembly vote, that had sharply criticised the United States for recognising Jerusalem as the Israeli capital in December 2017. India had also voted in favour of another UNGA resolution “deploring the use of excessive, disproportionate and indiscriminate force by Israeli forces against Palestinian civilians” in June 2018.

•“The best way to test India’s commitment is the way India votes,” Mr. Niang told The Hindu . “India has consistently voted in favour of those resolutions that promote the two-state solution with a Palestinian claim to East Jerusalem. We have not seen any weakening of the position.”

📰 SC annuls RBI curb, frees trade in cryptocurrencies

•The Supreme Court on Wednesday set aside an April 6, 2018, circular of the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) that prohibited banks and entities regulated by it from providing services in relation to virtual currencies (VCs).

•“Till date, RBI has not come out with a stand that any of the entities regulated by it namely, nationalised banks/scheduled commercial banks/cooperative banks/NBFCs, have suffered any loss or adverse effect directly or indirectly, on account of VC exchanges,” a Bench comprising Justices Rohinton Nariman, Aniruddha Bose and V. Ramasubramanian observed in a 180-page judgment.

•Justice Ramasubramanian, who authored the ruling, found the RBI circular “disproportionate” with an otherwise consistent stand taken by the central bank that VCs were not prohibited in the country. Besides, the court found that the RBI did not consider the availability of alternatives before issuing the circular.

•Again, the April circular was issued despite the fact that the central bank could not quote a single instance when VC exchanges “actually impacted entities regulated by RBI”.

📰 E-waste recycling has doubled, says Centre

A recycling rate of 10% in 2017-18 has risen to a little over 20% in 2018-19

•The Centre said it doubled the electronic waste (e-waste) it recycled in 2018-19 over 2017-18, according to a response to a question in the Rajya Sabha this week.

•In 2017, the Centre passed the E-Waste Management Rules, which require companies to collect a certain percentage of e-waste generated from their goods once they have reached their “end-of-life”.

•In FY 2017-2018, 7,08,445 tonnes of waste was generated, of which 69,414 tonnes were recycled, compared to 1,64,663 tonnes of recycled waste from 7,71,215 tonnes in FY 2018-2019— meaning a 10% recycling rate in 2017-18 rising to a little over 20% in 2018-19.

📰 Nod for changes to Companies Act for decriminalising offences

Priority is to axe sections that criminalise offences having no malafide intent: FM

•The Centre proposes to amend the Companies Act again, in a bid to decriminalise a number of offences and ease corporate social responsibility (CSR) requirements, especially for smaller companies.

•The amendment bill will also enable the listing of Indian companies on stock exchanges in foreign jurisdictions. This is expected to give Indian firms greater access to capital, a broader investor base and better valuations.

•On Wednesday, the Union Cabinet approved the proposal to amend 65 sections of the Act. “The priority is to remove sections which criminalise offences which may not have been intended to be malafide,” Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman told journalists after a Cabinet meeting.

•She outlined proposed changes to 52 out of 66 compoundable offences under the Act, either removing them entirely, downgrading penalties from jail sentences to fines or suggesting alternative adjudication mechanisms.

Recategorise offences

•The Centre proposes to recategorise 23 offences so that they can be dealt with through an in-house adjudication framework, while five types of offences will be dealt with under different alternative frameworks.

•Another seven will be omitted altogether. Most of these are procedural or technical defaults, according to an official statement.

•For 11 kinds of offences, the provision of imprisonment will be removed, limiting punishment to fines only. Six offences that had already been decriminalised earlier will see a further reduction in the quantum of penalties.

•The proposed amendments will also ensure that companies which have an obligation to spend Rs. 50 lakh per annum or less on Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) are no longer required to have a CSR committee. Companies that spend more than the mandatory 2% on CSR in a particular year can carry it forward as credit for fulfilment of CSR obligations for the next few years as well, she said.

•The changes are “expected to significantly enhance the confidence of Indian corporates in the government’s resolve to provide greater ease [of doing business] and accord highest respect to honest wealth creators in the country and reduce the burden on the justice system,” said an official statement. If passed by Parliament, these would be the second set of amendments to the Act over the last year, as the law was already amended last July.

📰 Public sector bank mergers get approval

•The merger of public sector banks (PSBs) will become effective from April 1, 2020, with the Cabinet giving nod to the proposal on Wednesday.

•The consolidation of 10 PSBs into four includes the merger of Oriental Bank of Commerce and United Bank of India into Punjab National Bank, the amalgamation of Syndicate Bank into Canara Bank, the merger of Andhra Bank and Corporation Bank into Union Bank of India, and the amalgamation of Allahabad Bank into Indian Bank. “The banks have submitted their scheme of amalgamation to Cabinet, which has been approved. They are on course to complete the amalgamation without affecting any of their core banking functions,” Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said.

📰 Rights or wrong?

UN body’s CAA move may be unwarranted, but govt. must abide by its equal protection duty

•The application on behalf of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, seeking to be heard as amicus curiae in the pending litigation in the Supreme Court against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019, is undoubtedly an unusual step. As expected, the government sees it as unwarranted interference. It does appear that the move is unnecessary as the global human rights perspective that High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet Jeria hopes to present is most likely to be raised by some of the petitioners themselves. After all, most of the 140-odd petitions argue that the CAA fails to extend the equal protection of law to all immigrants in the country. But, to be fair, the High Commissioner is not seeking to be a petitioner. On the contrary, she is offering the undoubted expertise that the premier UN body possesses in aid of the Court. She has appreciated the amendment’s positive side, noting its potential to redress the “irregular” condition of some migrants through a quicker citizenship process. It must be noted that the Court has relied on principles contained in international legal instruments in some of its judgments. The moot question is whether the UN High Commissioner ought to be given an opportunity to assist the Court in the matter, or whether, even without such assistance, the Court will countenance arguments based on the salutary provisions of international conventions that India is a party to. Needless to say, the amicus brief may not be necessary in the latter situation.

•The Modi government may be unhappy with the UN rights body’s “overreach”, but it will have to be underscored that the CAA’s flawed structure and the aggressive manner in which it was initially linked with a post-implementation exercise to purge the country of illegal immigrants have contributed to the present situation. The political Opposition, sections of the legal fraternity, academicians and commentators have made a strong case that making religion a factor to include certain categories for a fast-tracked naturalisation process is violative of secular principles. The government’s stout defence of the CAA is that no current Indian citizen would be affected, and that it was meant to help persecuted minorities in countries where Islam was the state religion. In addition to having to discharge the burden of proving that the CAA does not contravene the Constitution, the government would have to demonstrate that it is not in violation of provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Ms. Bachelet’s application marshalls significant aspects of global humanitarian law to buttress her point. The Court may probably not take her assistance, but there is little doubt that the Centre cannot evade its obligation to enact non-discriminatory legislation, grant all migrants equal protection and abide by the non-derogable principle of non-refoulement.

📰 The sum and substance of the Afghan deal

The United States is on its way out and this does not ensure peace for the people of Afghanistan

•The long-awaited deal between the United States and the Taliban was finally signed in Doha last Saturday by U.S. Special Envoy Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad and former Taliban deputy leader Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar. On the same day, U.S. Defence Secretary Mark Esper visited Kabul to conclude the Joint Declaration for Bringing Peace to Afghanistan between the two governments. Gaps and inconsistencies between the two only add to the confusion. But two facts are clear. The U.S. is on its way out and second, this does not ensure peace for the Afghan people. As former U.S. Defence Secretary General Mattis put it, “The U.S. doesn’t lose wars, it loses interest.” But since a major power cannot be seen to be losing a war, certainly not in an election year, a re-labelling of the withdrawal becomes necessary.

Shades of Vietnam

•Nearly a half century ago, U.S. President Richard Nixon had faced a similar dilemma. With more than half-a-million U.S. soldiers deployed in Vietnam, it was clear that a military solution was out of question. Seeking an exit, his National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger, during his secret visit to Beijing in July 1971, assured Premier Zhou Enlai that the U.S. was prepared to withdraw completely from Vietnam in return for release of U.S. prisoners of war and a ceasefire lasting “a decent interval”. Kissinger and Nixon knew that the deal would leave their ally, the South Vietnamese government led by President Thieu, vulnerable. In declassified 1972 White House tapes, Nixon and Kissinger acknowledge that “South Vietnam is not going to survive and the idea is to find a formula that can hold things together for a year or two”. The ploy worked.

•Nixon was re-elected with a record margin in November 1972 on the platform that peace was at hand. In January 1973, the Paris Peace Accords were signed, and by end March, the U.S. had completed its withdrawal ending direct military involvement. U.S. prisoners of war were released but by end-1973, the ceasefire was in tatters. Saigon fell to the North Vietnamese forces on April 30, 1975. Approximately 20,000 U.S. soldiers died during 1972-73 (Nixon cemented the understanding during his visit to China in February 1972) and 80,000 South Vietnamese soldiers died after the collapse of the ceasefire, following the decent interval. To win his re-election, Nixon had promised an honourable peace and delivered a delayed defeat, but by then the world had moved on. Dr. Kissinger won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1973 (joint winner). The secret assurances of 1971-72 only surfaced after four decades.

•Mr. Khalilzad is no stranger to Washington politics having served in Republican administrations since the Reagan era. He understood his job perfectly when Secretary Pompeo appointed him the Special Envoy for Afghan Reconciliation in September 2018. An Afghan by birth (he came to the U.S. in his teens) and having served as U.S. Ambassador in Afghanistan, he knew full well that he was not negotiating an Afghan peace deal; he was negotiating a “managed” U.S. exit. The time line too was clear. U.S. President Donald Trump had repeatedly declared that “great nations do not fight endless wars”; his re-election is due in the fall of 2020.

The road to Doha

•Mr. Trump’s 2017 policy aimed at breaking the military stalemate in Afghanistan by authorising an additional number of up to 5,000 soldiers, giving U.S. forces a freer hand to go after the Taliban, putting Pakistan on notice and strengthening Afghan capabilities. Within a year, it was clear that the policy was not working because no insurgency can be defeated as long as it enjoys safe havens and secure sanctuaries. Pakistan’s help was necessary to get the Taliban to the negotiating table.

•A three-way negotiation ensued. First was the Doha track with the Taliban; a second was with Islamabad/Rawalpindi and the third was with Kabul to ensure that the Afghan government would accept the outcome. The dice was loaded because Taliban and Pakistan negotiated as a team. Within six months, they had whittled down Mr. Khalilzad’s four objectives: a ceasefire, an intra-Afghan peace dialogue, cutting ties with terrorist organisations such as al-Qaeda, and finally, U.S. troop withdrawal —to just the last one, with some palliatives regarding the third.

•The deal was ready to be signed last September when Mr. Trump abruptly called it off, stalling the process. National Security Adviser John Bolton’s dismissal (he was opposed) and the release of three high-level Taliban militants including Anas Haqqani (Sirajuddin Haqqani’s brother) in November helped smoothen issues.

•The key features of the Doha deal are: i) U.S. troops to be reduced from the current 14,000 to 8,600 by June 15 (in 135 days); ii) withdrawal of all remaining U.S. and foreign forces by April 29, 2021 (in 14 months); iii) Removal of the Taliban from UN Security Council sanctions list by May 29; iv) Up to 5,000 Taliban prisoners and 1,000 Afghan security forces prisoners to be released from Afghan and Taliban custody respectively by March 10; v) U.S. sanctions against Taliban leaders to be lifted by August 27; vi) intra-Afghan talks to begin on March 10.

Whither Afghanistan?

•Nothing reflects the fragility of the deal signed between the U.S. and the Taliban in Doha better than the title: “Agreement for Bringing Peace to Afghanistan between the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan which is not recognised by the United States as a state and is known as the Taliban and the United States of America”. This is repeated more than a dozen times in the agreement. Ironically, the U.S. has committed to getting UN Security Council endorsement for the deal with an entity that it does not recognise.

•The leader of the Haqqani network and the number two of the Taliban, Sirajuddin Haqqani, who recently wrote an op-ed in The New York Times , remains on the U.S.’s wanted list with a reward of $10-million for information leading to his capture or death. This hardly squares with the notion that the Taliban is now a U.S. counter-terrorism partner against the Islamic State.

•The Kabul Declaration states that Afghan government will “participate in US facilitated discussion with Taliban on CBMs, to include determining the feasibility of releasing significant number of prisoners on both sides”. There is no reference to numbers to be released or a deadline of March 10 linking it to commencing intra-Afghan talks, as in the Doha deal. No wonder President Ghani angrily declared a day later that release of prisoners will be part of the agenda for the intra-Afghan talks, provoking the Taliban to declare that the truce would no longer cover Afghan security forces, creating the first of many obstacles ahead.

•There is no mention of what will happen to the Taliban fighters whose numbers have suddenly inflated from earlier range of 30,000 to 50,000 to 60,000 to 1,50,000. Are they to be disarmed and demobilised; prepared for civilian life or integrated with the Afghan security forces? Who is expected to provide stipends to those opting for peace? Mr. Trump maintains that it is “time that the war on terror is fought by someone else” so it will not be the U.S.. The U.S. has described itself as a “facilitator”, a responsibility that it will be glad to share with others.

•The idea of a ceasefire, which is normally the starting point for any peace process, has been made an outcome of the intra-Afghan dialogue, together with a political road map for the future, but without any time frame. There is no reference to preserving the gains of the last 18 years and with the Taliban intent on reviving the Islamic Emirate, the shape of things is clear.

•Remember the duck test — if it looks like a duck, walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it probably is a duck.

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