GSAT-17 will join 17 communication satellites in orbit
•A 39-minute dusk launch at the South American space port of Kourou placed GSAT-17 in space as the newest Indian communication satellite. The launch took place at 2.45 a.m. IST on Thursday.
•The 3,477-kg spacecraft, the heaviest built by the Indian Space Research Organisation, will soon join the ring of 17 working national communication satellites that are already in orbit. It will add to the services they provide for broadcasting, telecommunications, VSAT services, meteorology, search and rescue, among others, ISRO said.
•Said to have over 40 transponders in different bands, “GSAT-17 is designed to provide continuity of services of operational satellites in C, extended C and S bands,” it said.
•In Bengaluru, ISRO Chairman A.S. Kiran Kumar said, “We have been short of satellite capacity and need to continue adding it for some more time. However, the [transponders] scene is definitely improving” after recent launches of communication satellites.
•The satellite and its foreign launch were approved in May 2015 with an outlay of Rs. 1,013 crore. It went to orbit on the Ariane-5 ECA rocket VA-238, operated by European launch services agency Arianespace.
•When it sends the 5,700-kg GSAT-11 this year-end again on an Ariane booster, ISRO hopes it will be its last foreign launch, says Mr. Kiran Kumar.
India gets a sharper eye in the sky
Recently launched Cartosat-2E sends pictures from 500 km above the earth
•A railway station in Rajasthan and eye-catching locations in Qatar and Egypt are among the early pictures beamed down by the week-old Cartosat-2 series spacecraft.
•The satellite, known as Cartosat-2E, is the third Indian remote sensing (IRS) or earth observation satellite that can send 60-cm resolution pictures from an orbit 500 km above the earth.
•Primarily it will provide useful space-based data for town planners, creators of urban infrastructure, for agriculture and project monitoring, and for decision makers in Smart City and AMRUTH projects, said a senior official of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO).
•Its applications apart, ISRO Chairman A.S. Kiran Kumar agreed that availability of high-resolution Cartosat-2E data to civil agencies would drive down import of remote sensing imageries from foreign EO satellites.
‘Will reduce imports’
•“[The new EO satellite] can definitely reduce imagery imports. We will work towards that. Its data will be more than adequate for a large number of applications,” he told The Hindu.
•Cartosat-2E is the sixth and last of the second generation cartography themed series, which started in 2007 with Cartosat-2 and includes Cartosat-2A, 2B, 2C and 2D.
•The last three are said to be exclusive to defence and security agencies. Cartosat-2E offers images of the same 60-cm resolution as 2C and 2D; the same feature is now available for the genuine use of civil agencies, mostly government agencies. That is — it can capture objects that are 60-cm wide or long.
•Mr. Kiran Kumar did not mention import figures but explained that earlier, imageries had to be imported because Indian EOs offered only 1-metre resolution pictures. “Now there is the sub-metre availability which will make a significant impact.”
•A report of the Comptroller and Auditor General for 2010-11 had noted that “the prices of high resolution satellite data in the international market were six times more than the prices of comparable products” of Indian remote-sensing satellites. On the third-generation Cartosats, Mr. Kiran Kumar said they were working on Cartosat-3, the first approved spacecraft in the series.
MEA accepts U.S. use of ‘administered Kashmir’
Govt. move marks sharp shift in position on J&K
•The External Affairs Ministry, in an apparent volte face, accepted on Thursday that the U.S.’s usage of the term “Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir” was acceptable and “affirms” India’s position.
•In response to questions on the issue that has snowballed ever since the U.S. State department used the term while designating Hizbul Mujahideen commander Syed Salahuddin as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist on July 26, the MEA spokesperson said, “The use of the term ‘Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir’ merely affirms our position that Syed Salahuddin has been involved in cross-border terrorism in India”.
Objections in UN
•The acceptance of the term appears to be in contrast to the government’s position earlier this month, when the Ambassador and Permanent Representative of India to the United Nations Offices in Geneva, Mr. Rajiv Chandar told the Human Rights Council that the term was unacceptable. During the proceedings of the 35th session, Ambassador Chandar objected to the use of the term by the Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.
•“The entire State of Jammu and Kashmir is an integral part of India. Pakistan remains in illegal occupation of a part of our territory. Therefore, the neutrality of the phrase “Indian-administered Jammu & Kashmir” is artificial,” the Indian envoy had said. (http://www.pmindiaun.org /pages.php?id=1485)
•Downplaying the significance of the American wording, the MEA spokesperson also said the term had been used before. “Similar term has been used in the State Department’s country reports on terrorism brought out every year, including in 2010-2013,” he said.
•In a second statement issued on Thursday evening the MEA added that “India’s position that the entire State of Jammu & Kashmir is an integral part of India is well known. The U.S. government has been apprised of the same once again.”
Rarely used reference
•In its report on Thursday, The Hindu had reported that the State Department website had rare references to the term “Indian-administered” and had only used it once in the context of designations of terrorists and Foreign Terrorist Organisations, in 2001.
•Former diplomats pointed out that the phrase, which was objectionable to India as New Delhi claims all of Jammu and Kashmir as an “integral part”, has been objected to in the past, even when it is used by international publications.
•“We don’t allow any map or book or magazine to be published with anything but a full map of Jammu and Kashmir. How can we accept a term like this which divides Jammu and Kashmir?” said former Ambassador Rajiv Dogra, who has served in Pakistan, and called the MEA statement “irresponsible”.
Modi’s visit to upgrade relationship with Israel
Israel clears Strategic Partnership deal on non-security issues
•Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Israel next week will be reciprocated by Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu later this year, a senior MEA official said here on Thursday.
•“We are not looking at [Mr. Modi’s] as a one-off visit, but a whole year to celebrate the 25th year of full relations between India and Israel. Many events are planned through the year, and we are hoping that by the end of the year we will see an incoming visit by their Prime Minister to India,” Secretary (Economic Relations) Amar Sinha said, speaking at an event to discuss the Prime Minister’s two day visit from July 4. Israel’s Ambassador to India Daniel Carmon attended the event at Delhi’s Vivekananda India Foundation as well.
•On Thursday, the MEA and the Israeli Embassy simultaneously announced Mr. Modi’s visit. “This significant visit, the first of an Indian Prime Minister to Israel, takes place on the backdrop of marking 25 years of diplomatic relations between India and Israel, and will further upgrade the ever growing partnership between the two countries,” the announcement said.
Industrial R&D fund
•According to officials involved in the preparations, the visit will see the partnership being upgraded to a “Strategic Partnership” on issues like Water, Agriculture, Science and Technology, and Space. Ties in more than 30 areas will be upgraded through MoUs on cybersecurity, agriculture, tourism, health, connectivity, education, Ganga rejuvenation and even “attracting Bollywood”.
•Both sides will also commit $40 million to an Industrial Research & Development fund to encourage applied scientific research, using Israeli innovation and Indian expertise. Mr. Carmon said the Israeli Cabinet had cleared the Strategic Partnership on non-security issues on June 24. “We have signed Strategic partnerships with Africa, China and Japan earlier. But this one [with India] is much more comprehensive,” he added.
•Significantly, despite the fact that India has become Israel’s largest arms export market in the world, and Israel is one of India’s largest arms suppliers, The Ambassador said there would be “no defence component” to Mr. Modi’s visit.
•In April, India signed a $2 billion deal with an Israeli firm for advanced medium-range, surface-to-air missiles (MRSAMs), the largest such deal for the Israeli industry.
•Mr. Modi will be received in Tel Aviv by Mr. Netanyahu, who is understood to have cleared his entire schedule for the three-day visitThe two leaders will address a gathering of about 6,000 Israelis of Indian origin on the July 5, at the Tel Aviv Fairgrounds convention centre and will meet with one of the youngest survivors of the Mumbai 26/11 attacks, Moshe Holtzberg, whose parents were gunned down in Mumbai’s Chabad house.
Army, PLA in a tug of war over Doklam Plateau
The area has huge strategic significance for both India and China
•The Doklam Plateau, north of the tri-junction between Sikkim, Bhutan and Tibet by Indian claim, is not just a disputed area, but has huge strategic significance for both India and China.
•The few square kilometres of the plateau, which one officer familiar with the terrain calls “more a ledge than anything else” because of its steep mountains, is witnessing a tense stand-off between detachments of the Indian Army and the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) for the past few days. There have been several incidents that have culminated in the present situation, according to sources.
•In recent days, the Chinese are believed to have destroyed temporary bunkers of the Indian Army, while the Indian Army is accused of objecting to a road construction by the Chinese side on the disputed area. Finally, there was also an incident of jostling among the soldiers of the two sides. Wedged between Bhutan, India and China are few areas of dispute — together accounting for just over 750 square kilometres. Among the disputed areas is Doklam (also called Donglang in China), which is just about 90 square kilometres where the present dispute is taking pace.
•For Chinese to reach the China-Bhutan border posts, Doklam provides an easy way to construct their road, and they have been trying to do so and India has consistently objected to it. Not very far from Doklam is the strategically important Chumbi Valley in the Tibetan region, to which Chinese are now planning to expand their rail connectivity.
•The disputed area also provides, according to India perspective, a bigger buffer to its sensitive Chicken’s Neck, or the Siliguri Corridor, which is an extremely narrow stretch of land that connects the north-eastern region to the rest of India. From the Chumbi Valley it is just a little over 100 kilometres away.
•“Maybe 20 years down the line, once we develop our border infrastructure at par with the Chinese, we can be more welcoming of better connectivity and be relaxed about the dispute. Not for now,” an ex-army officer with extensive knowledge of the India-China dispute said.
A welcome sale
The Centre should sell its entire stake inAir India, even if in stages
•With the Union Cabinet’s ‘in-principle’ approval for the sale of Air India and five of its subsidiaries, a long-standing demand on the reform checklist has been ticked. The rationale for the government to shovel in huge sums of money to keep the loss-making airline afloat was weakening by the year. Today, such life support, as Finance Minister Arun Jaitley recently noted, was being given when competing private airlines already cater to well over 85% of the air travel demand in the country. Government money that keeps Air India from going bankrupt would be much better used to fund important social and infrastructure programmes that are starved of precious capital each year. Air India has been surviving on a Rs. 30,000-crore bailout package put together by the United Progressive Alliance government in 2012 to help its turnaround, and the debt relief provided by public sector banks. The airline has a debt load of over Rs. 50,000 crore on its books, and it is estimated that even a well-executed asset sale may not fully cover its present liabilities. So in the event of a sale, taxpayers may have to foot at least some part of the loss — either directly in case the government pays off the airline’s creditors, or indirectly if the public sector banks write off their loans to the airline. However, it is more likely that the government may divest its three profit-making subsidiaries separately, with the proceeds going to Air India to help deal with its liabilities.
•It is not yet clear whether the airline will be fully privatised or how its eventual sale will be executed. A ministerial panel under Mr. Jaitley is expected to begin working on the details soon. But having taken the politically courageous decision to privatise Air India, the government would do well to go for the sale of its entire stake, even if it is done in a gradual manner. Eventually, the aim of the sale should be to get the best price for the airline. One good way to achieve this would be to allow both domestic and foreign buyers to bid freely for stakes. For this, the government will have to re-tune its FDI policy to allow foreign investors to buy a stake in Air India. The Civil Aviation Ministry has made a case for the sale of non-core assets first to pay off existing creditors, so that the airline becomes more attractive to private buyers. But this assumes that private buyers would not otherwise see the value in Air India’s assets. IndiGo has already expressed interest in buying a stake in Air India, with other domestic airlines reported to be serious about making a bid too. Finding a way to deal with Air India’s debt load will be the main challenge for Mr. Jaitley’s panel. How this process goes will be vital not just for Air India. If it goes relatively smoothly, that would make the task of moving forward on the disinvestment of other public sector units that much easier.
The task before the sentinel
It is time the Chief Justice of India set up the larger Bench to examine privacy challenges to Aadhaar
•The expansion of Aadhaar continues. The effort is now emboldened by a Supreme Court judgment that has stuck a band-aid on a gaping wound, which required stitches if not surgery. Individual holdouts against Aadhaar have been recognised and grudgingly protected by the judgment. There is, however, no broad declaration against an overpowering state’s propensity to stretch out to every sphere to compel individual surrender of little remnants of liberty. The architecture of enforced surveillance has been left intact.
As good as its use
•Aadhaar is a classic case of technology being amoral. The splitting of the atom gave us nuclear energy. It also gave us weapons with the capacity to destroy civilisation. Similarly, the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) began only with the mandate to confirm a citizen’s unique identity. A stand-alone authority, with biometric information and fingerprints, which could, in cases of doubt, identify with certainty any claimant of government subsidies or special services. Aadhaar’s claim was to weed out duplicates and forgeries, thus ensuring targeted distribution by administrations.
•Aadhaar’s sole purpose was as a benign guarantor of identity in cases of doubt. Any attempt by government departments to overreach this mandate was resisted by the authority. In fact, when a court ordered access to the database for a police investigation in a criminal matter, the Aadhaar authority challenged the order in the Supreme Court.
•However, the UIDAI database has today ceased to be only a neutral identifier of a person’s identity. In the Information Age, where data is the new oil, the temptation to maximise the use of an all-encompassing database is simply too strong. More and more service providers sought linkages to the data and the government ramped up the number of government and other organisations that could insist on an Aadhaar-based identity alone as a sine qua non for dealing with the user. Shortly after the Supreme Court’s recent judgment of June 9, 2017, the government publicised a prior notification of June 1, 2017, under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA). The notification makes it mandatory for bank account holders to produce an Aadhaar number.
•The government has also deliberately misconstrued an earlier Supreme Court order in order to pressurise telecom operators to make Aadhaar a requirement for all mobile phone users. Even education and health services have been used to broaden the Aadhaar net and draw in more people into the dragnet. Schools insist on newly admitted children having Aadhaar numbers, which are not given until the parents too submit to Aadhaar registration.
•There are reports that the Civil Aviation Ministry wants to make Aadhaar identification mandatory for access to commercial flights. The government has decided to make the cost of holding out unbearable to the non-compliant and present courts with a fait accompli.
•Fundamental freedoms of the individual are being routinely sacrificed at the altar of administrative expediency and the forced sacrifice is justified as being necessary for the greater common good. Not since the forced sterilisations during the Emergency has a government been so invested in an administrative goal that it has abandoned the requirement to seek “the consent of the governed”. A key to access government services has turned into a prison lock of individual liberties. An all-powerful state seems today to seek “One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them, One Ring to bring them all, and in the darkness bind them”.
Everyone is affected
•How then is this darkness to be dispelled? How are the Lords of the Rings to be brought back to democratic governance? The processes have to be both political and legal. The Mahatma as a leader was born in 1907 when an Indian barrister in Transvaal refused to register himself as a lesser inhabitant of South Africa. It is time for all political parties, including the Bharatiya Janata Party, to take a relook at the extent of control that Aadhaar gives to governments against the citizen. Today’s government is tomorrow’s opposition, and vice versa. Every party must seriously ponder the possibility that its worst opponents may one day use this technology against it.
•The Congress, which fathered the scheme, is now coming to the slow realisation of the surveillance possibilities that it has handed over to its successor. Sitaram Yechury of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) has also raised concerns during the parliamentary debates held after the Aadhaar legislation was rushed through as a money bill. A sustained parliamentary inquiry committee, spanning various ministries, should be used to rein in the system’s worst excesses. Every new administrative measure designed to be Aadhaar-reliant should seek prior approval from this parliamentary committee.
•It has been almost 700 days since the Supreme Court on August 11, 2015, referred the privacy challenges to Aadhaar to a larger Bench of possibly nine judges. The court needs to rule on whether the right to privacy is an established part of the fundamental right to life and liberty in this country. This is because, at a hearing before three judges, Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi had contended that because of judgments of the “Court in M.P. Sharma & Others v. Satish Chandra & Others , AIR 1954 SC 300 and Kharak Singh v. State of U.P. & Others , AIR 1963 SC 1295 (decided by Eight and Six Judges, respectively), the legal position regarding the existence of the fundamental right to privacy is doubtful.” He therefore contended that the “right to privacy” deemed to be accepted by subsequent smaller Benches “resulted in a jurisprudentially impermissible divergence of judicial opinions”.
•The court further records its “opinion that the cases on hand raise far reaching questions of importance involving interpretation of the Constitution. What is at stake is the amplitude of the fundamental rights including that precious and inalienable right under Article 21. If the observations made in M.P. Sharma(supra) and Kharak Singh (supra) are to be read literally and accepted as the law of this country, the fundamental rights guaranteed under the Constitution of India and more particularly right to liberty under Article 21 would be denuded of vigour and vitality. At the same time, we are also of the opinion that the institutional integrity and judicial discipline require that pronouncement made by larger Benches of this Court cannot be ignored by the smaller Benches without appropriately explaining the reasons for not following the pronouncements made by such larger Benches”.
The nine judges
•Getting together nine judges to hear at length a constitutional matter of these proportions is an administrative nightmare for any Chief Justice. But failure to do so in time permits the state to set up an architecture of surveillance that cannot be undone later.
•Chief Justice Patanjali Sastri in the early years of the Supreme Court had written: “If, then, the courts in this country face up to such important and none too easy task, it is not out of any desire to tilt at legislative authority in a crusader’s spirit, but in discharge of a duty plainly laid upon them by the Constitution. This is especially true as regards the ‘Fundamental rights’, as to which this Court has been assigned the role of a sentinel on the ‘ qui vive ’. While the Court naturally attaches great weight to the legislative judgment, it cannot desert its own duty to determine finally the constitutionality of an impugned statute.”
Making the House rules
Parliament must codify the legislature’s privileges to prevent misuse of power
•The Karnataka Legislative Assembly has found two journalists guilty of breach of its privilege and sentenced them to jail. This followed certain articles written by the journalists which were alleged to defame some legislators. This case once again raises the question of what should constitute privilege of the legislative bodies.
•The idea of privilege emerged in England as Parliament started to protect itself from excesses by the monarch. It established several rights and privileges including the freedom of members of Parliament to freely speak and vote in Parliament (including its committees).
The question of privilege
•The Indian Constitution specifies the powers and privileges of Parliament in Article 105 and those of State legislatures in Article 194. In brief, they (a) provide freedom of speech in Parliament subject to other provisions of the Constitution and standing orders of the House; (b) give immunity for all speeches and votes in Parliament from judicial scrutiny; and (c) allow Parliament (and State legislatures) to codify the privileges, and until then, have the same privileges as the British Parliament had in 1950. Till now, Parliament and State legislatures have not passed any law to codify their privileges.
•The power of privilege has been used against journalists in several instances. For example, in 2003, the Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly sentenced the publisher, editor, executive editor and two senior journalists of The Hindu and the editor of Murasoli to 15 days’ imprisonment for contempt. The action against The Hindu was taken for three articles that described the Chief Minister’s speeches and used words such as “diatribe” and “high-pitched tone”, and an editorial.
•Interestingly, the editorial commented on the privilege motion against the articles and argued that privilege must be invoked “only rarely when there is real obstruction to its functioning, and not in a way that sets legislators above ordinary comment and criticism.” The journalists obtained a stay on the arrest and the matter was referred to the Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court.
•Given this history, there are several issues that need resolution. First, what should be the privileges that protect the members of legislatures and the House? How does the privilege power sit with fundamental rights of expression and personal liberty? It is clear that members of legislatures should be able to perform their legislative duties without any obstruction, and should be free to speak and vote without fear of legal repercussions. Should the privilege extend to comments on the individual actions of members?
•Perhaps, it is better to restrict the use of privilege to proceedings of the legislature. Any member who is falsely accused of any impropriety can use the defamation route through courts. A further issue is whether the House should have the power to sentence a person to a jail term. While the British Parliament continues to have such powers, it has not used it since 1880.
•An even more fundamental question is: what are the privileges? In the absence of a code, how does one know whether an action is a breach of privilege or not? Therefore, it is important to codify them.
•In this context, it may be pertinent to note that Australia passed the Parliamentary Privileges Act in 1987. That Act states that “words or acts shall not be taken as an offence against a House by reason only that those words or acts are defamatory or critical of Parliament, a House, a committee or a member”. However, this protection does not apply “for words spoken or acts done in the presence of a House or a committee”.
•The Act also prescribes a maximum punishment of one-year imprisonment and a fine of A$5,000. In 1999, a joint committee of the British Parliament recommended codification but this recommendation was overturned by another committee in 2013.
•It is evident that the framers of our Constitution envisaged codification of privileges. In the Constituent Assembly, Dr. Rajendra Prasad said, “Parliament will define the powers and privileges, but until Parliament has undertaken the legislation and passes it, the privileges and powers of the House of Commons will apply. So, it is only a temporary affair. Of course, Parliament may never legislate on that point and it is therefore for the members to be vigilant.”
•Parliament has examined the issue of codification. In 2008, the Committee of Privileges of Lok Sabha felt that there was no need for codification. It noted that the House had recommended punishment only five times since the first Lok Sabha, and that allegations of misuse of its powers were due to a lack of understanding of its procedures.
•Given the number of such cases, Parliament and Legislative Assemblies should pass laws to codify privilege. It may also be time for the courts to revisit the earlier judgments and find the right balance between fundamental rights of citizens and privilege of the legislature. The recent case in Karnataka gives another opportunity to examine the issue.
GST transition to pose hurdles: ADB
Pricing strategy to be crucial for firms
•Asian Development Bank president Takehiko Nakao termed the roll-out of the Goods and Services Tax as an important reform achievement of the NDA government, but suggested that it could pose challenges on account of several factors — especially the multiplicity of tax rates.
•While he commended the government’s resolve to push forward with reforms in several areas, the ADB chief said India must put more energy into reforms of its labour and land acquisition laws as well as regulations governing foreign direct investment so that the economy can grow faster than countries like China on a sustained basis.
•Speaking to reporters after meeting Finance Minister Arun Jaitley in the capital, Mr. Nakao said the impact of GST on the economy is difficult to gauge at this stage but its biggest benefit would be the integration of the Indian economy into a single market.
•“There are many different views about GST because of so many tax rates, for instance. So its application is a very important challenge. From my experiences in Japan, when we introduce a new tax, especially such an advanced instrument of taxation like GST, sometimes businesses have to think about pricing based on the new tax burden,” he said.
•Arriving at an effective pricing strategy in the GST era would be the most critical challenge for businesses and would impact their profitability, the ADB chief pointed out.
•“Some businesses can enjoy a reduction of tax burden from the previous multiple taxes to the GST, but there are also services or other businesses which would have a more tax burden. So how businesses can adjust to the new tax arrangement by pricing is one big issue. If they cannot shift the tax burden properly, they must reduce their profit,” he explained.
Multiplicity of rates
•The multiplicity of rates India has opted for the GST, would also be a challenge for officials as well as businesses.
•“There is the tax on the output and the tax credit on input, but there are so many different tax rates so how to apply different rates to different commodities and services for output as well as input, is an issue,” Mr. Nakao said.
•The dual tax enforcement structure India has adopted — whereby both States and the Centre would be in charge of enforcement — could be problematic too, the ADB chief said, mooting a clear arrangement that doesn’t make compliance difficult. “There can be some transition issues,” he concluded.
•Earlier, Mr. Jaitley met representatives of trade and industry and asked them to ensure all benefits arising out of the implementation of the new tax regime were passed on to customers, according to a statement from the Finance Ministry.
‘Reforms, CEZs to aid growth’
•Labour, land and agriculture reforms along with development of coastal economic zones (CEZs) and new cities will help India achieve rapid economic growth, according to NITI Aayog vice chairman Arvind Panagariya.
•“No doubt we can grow, but that will require a lot of reforms like labour reform, agri-related reforms and coastal zones… new cities will have to come up,” he said adding that some States were keen on creating such zones that will create employment opportunities as well.
•Mr. Panagariya, speaking at a discussion on ‘NITI Action Agenda and the Indian Economy’ organised by the Reserve Bank of India, suggested that India should undertake projects with a lower gestation period, similar to China. “We should start on a limited scale and create a few models,” he said.