The Hindu Notes 06th Aug,2017

Venkaiah sweeps V-P polls with 516 votes

17 to 20 MPs cross voted to ensure historic victory
•M. Venkaiah Naidu was elected the 13th Vice-President of India on Saturday. The polling was held earlier in the day, and results were declared in the evening.
•Mr. Naidu polled a massive 516 of the total 760 votes, aided by cross-voting by Opposition MPs in the 15th vice-presidential elections, NDA Ministers said. Opposition candidate Gopalkrishna Gandhi polled 244 votes. The elections saw the highest polling percentage at 98.12%, with 14 MPs failing to turn up to vote.
Unprecedented
•While the result of the contest was a foregone conclusion, the margin of Mr. Naidu’s victory was the largest in recent elections.
•In 2002, Bhairon Singh Shekhawat (the last NDA nominee to win) polled 454 votes to Sushil Kumar Shinde’s 305 votes. Outgoing Vice-President Hamid Ansari polled 490 votes to 238 of the NDA’s Jaswant Singh. BJP leaders, who oversaw the election for the party, said that between 17 and 20 MPs cross-voted, but no details were available on the MPs.

GST Council approves e-Way billing

•The Goods and Services Tax (GST) Council on Saturday decided to implement the e-Way bill system for the transport of goods across the country, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said.
•The Council also decided to reduce the tax rate for job work for all forms of textile work to 5% from 18%. Apart from this, the Council reviewed the progress of the implementation of the new indirect tax regime since July 1, and approved the changes made by its implementation committee.
•“The GST Council has given its in-principle approval for the implementation of e-Way bills,” Mr. Jaitley told reporters, following the conclusion of the 20th meeting of the GST Council. “There will be no checkposts since we want a smooth transfer of goods across States.”
•Mr. Jaitley added that e-Way bills will be necessary for the transport of goods worth more than Rs. 50,000, and over a distance of more than 10 km. It will not apply for goods exempt from GST. “We prefer it if the process is technology-driven, with the human interface kept to a minimum,” Mr. Jaitley said.

Skill-linked immigration Bill may favour Indian applicants

But influential Republicans are opposing the Trump-backed legislation
•President Donald Trump is championing a new piece of legislation that proposes to change America’s immigration system to give preference to skills than family links, but the fractious nature of the debate over the move suggests that it is far from becoming a law.
•Two Republican senators — Lindsey Graham and Ron Johnson — and the Democrats have already declared their opposition to the proposed Bill.
•RAISE or Reforming American Immigration for a Strong Economy Act, sponsored by Republican Senators David Perdue and Tom Cotton, also proposes to cut immigration by 41% in the first year and by 50% by the 10th year. According to the Bill, people with English proficiency will be preferred, and the number of refugees admitted annually will be reduced by half to 50,000. The lottery system to promote diversity in America, which allows people from less represented countries such as Nepal and Ethiopia, will be ended.
•The Bill does not propose changes in temporary work visa programmes such as H-1B.
•The proposal for skill-based immigration per se could find larger support, including among many Democrats, but the host of allied issues entangled in the American immigration debate makes any forward movement on the issue difficult. “The bottom line is to cut immigration by half a million people, legal immigration, doesn’t make much sense,” said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.
•Comprising a significant portion of new entrants into the U.S. in the last two decades, Indians have a huge stake in the debate. Also in question is whether the U.S. lawmakers will have the appetite to deal with a minor part of the immigration issue, keeping the controversial heart of the issue, which is the future of estimated 11 million undocumented residents.
Illegal immigrants
•There is no authentic numbers available, but community activists estimate that South Asians constitute a significant share in that. A Pew study estimated that in 2014, around 5,00,000 Indians are in American illegally.
•Of the one million permanent residency permits, or green cards, issued by the U.S. annually, two third goes for the category of family reunion. Green card allotment has a country-wise cap, which currently is disadvantageous to Indians. “More than 7,00,000 high-skilled immigrant workers from India are in the U.S. today on temporary work visas. These people are working hard every day helping grow our economy, raising their children as Americans right here in our communities,” Congressman Kevin Yoder from Kansas said on the House floor recently.
•Another Pew study released last month said the average waiting time for an Indian to obtain a green card in America under employment category is more than 12 years, the longest for any nationality. The reason is that there are several times more Indian applicants than there are green cards every year.
•According to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) that maintains country-wise list of H-1B visa applications, but not allotments, 21 lakh Indians applied under the programme in the last 11 years. The agency received 34 lakh applications for H-1B in the same period and the second largest cohort of applicants were from China, at 2.96 lakhs.
•Some Democratic Senators and rights groups such as the Southern Poverty Law Centre (SPLC) and South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT) have said the proposed Bill has racists undertones. “Its provisions reflect the shameful agenda of nativists and white nationalists who fear the growing diversity of our country,” SPLC said in a statement. Lakshmi Sridaran, of SAALT, said: “The draconian use of legislation and executive orders to criminalise and marginalise immigrant communities reveals the inherent xenophobia of this administration.

Constitutional or party-political secularism?

Instead of respecting the best in religious groups, political parties hobnob with those least deserving of respect
•Few countries in the world exist where secularism is more bitterly contested and perhaps even fewer countries than India where the term has been persistently misused and abused. No other term in India has been continuously battered and evacuated of meaning or significance. The cacophony that surrounds secularism may well be the price that secularism has to pay for becoming an integral part of our country’s public and political discourse.
•A couple of decades ago, Indian secularism was unfairly charged by its opponents for being anti-religious. It was subsequently labelled as a pro-minority doctrine. In recent times, we have been advised to choose between secularism and development, as if secularism was an anti-development ideology. And last month we saw the bizarre spectacle in Bihar where secularism and corruption were viewed as blood brothers; the champions of secularism, mired in corruption, are arresting the growth of an economy perched to take off and soar high, it was claimed.
•How has secularism come to such a pass? This is a complex story, which I cannot even begin to narrate here. But I speak of a small, but important, conceptual episode within this tale: the degeneration of constitutional political secularism to what, for want of a better term, I call party-political secularism.
European and Indian secularisms
•What are these two secularisms? To understand India’s constitutional secularism, it is best to contrast it with European conceptions. The break-up of Latin Christendom in Europe generated religious wars. Elimination and expulsion of religious dissenters produced predominantly single-religion societies. Each European state closely aligned itself with one or the other dominant church in society. Thus, England became Anglican, Scandinavia became Lutheran, Spain and Italy became Catholic, Denmark became Calvinist, and so on. Over time, however, the church was seen to become too politically meddlesome and socially oppressive. A movement for ‘un-churching’, or curtailing the power of the church, was set in motion. A battle ensued between the state and the church in which, by and large, European states prevailed. European states separated themselves from the dominant church. Thus, the separation of state and church became the defining feature of European and later American secularisms.
•In India, the situation till at least the 20th century was completely different because, here, there has been no attempt to liquidate religious diversity. The state has always found ways of dealing with all religious groups. Hardly any state existed that did not patronise all existing religions. Under modern conditions, this practice developed into a defence of religious pluralism. The state had to respect all religions, treat them non-preferentially. Respecting religions often entailed the necessity of the state to keep off all religions. On other occasions, it meant that the state positively contributed to enhancing the quality of religious life, for instance, by giving subsidies to schools run by religious communities. At the same time, quasi-religious institutions such as caste continue to be oppressive, particularly to Dalits and women. This demanded that the state intervene wherever religion was hierarchical and coercive. Hence the ban on untouchability and the reform of gender-discriminatory personal laws.
•India’s constitutional secularism requires that the Indian state be neither wholly respectful nor disrespectful to religions. Critical respect for all religions is the hallmark of Indian secularism.
•Furthermore, it enjoins the state to keep a value-based or principled distance from all religions: to interfere or refrain from interfering in religions depending entirely on which of these strategies best promotes freedom, equality and fraternity.
The growth of opportunism
•But in the last 40 years or so, we have developed another secularism, what I call ‘party-political secularism’, an odd, nefarious ‘doctrine’ practised by political parties, particularly the so-called “secular forces”. This secularism has dispelled principles from the core idea and replaced them with opportunism; opportunistic distance from all religious communities is its slogan. It has removed ‘critical’ from critical respect and reduced the idea of respect to making deals with the loudest, most fanatical, aggressive sections of every religious group. Thus political parties keep off religion or intervene as and when it best suits their party or electoral interests. This has led to the banning of The Satanic Verses , the unlocking of the Babri Masjid/Ram Janmabhoomitemple, the curtailing of women’s rights in the Shah Bano case, and to deals with the likes of Bukhari. Instead of respecting the best in religious groups, political parties hobnob with those least deserving of respect. Party-political secularism means that political institutions like the state and political party keep an opportunist distance from the notorious and highly politicised sections of all religious groups. This is also a fertile ground for majoritarian Hinduism whose spokespersons can question all the deal-making and opportunism of “secularists” without self-examining their own equally unethical practices.
•Alas, electoral politics has sidelined or corrupted our constitutional secularism. To be fair, electoral politics breeds opportunism. If one’s only aim is to win, to do so by any means is always tempting. But it is here that we need the courts, a free press, an alert citizenry, and civil society activists to move in, to show a mirror to these so-called ‘secular’ parties and tell them what they can and cannot do. I am not blaming political parties alone. This is a collective failure. It is on all of us to stop the proliferation of the misuse and abuse of a secularism that was fashioned collectively by Mahatma Gandhi, B.R. Ambedkar, Jawaharlal Nehru and Sardar Patel.

Where is the opposition in India?

The BJP’s ideology is reasonably clear, in both its extreme and moderate forms. But the opposition lacks a coherent and consistent platform
•My friends who are opposed to the Bharatiya Janata Party — and I have friends who support it too — often despair at the politics of the party ruling at the Centre and in various States. But sometimes I feel that they should despair more at the national opposition — and the parties in opposition to the BJP in many States.
•Because the BJP, for better or for worse, is there. You can count its warts or confer a halo on it, but you cannot miss noticing it. But I wonder if we have any real opposition left in India — both at the national level and in many States.
•This came through most recently in my home State, Bihar, where Chief Minister Nitish Kumar easily switched from his ‘grand alliance’ with Lalu Prasad to staying the Chief Minister with the support of the party (BJP) that he had rebuffed just three years ago. Now, I am not convinced that Mr. Kumar’s move was necessarily opportunistic — though things like his inability to induct more than one woman in a cabinet of 27, given his loud commitment to women’s emancipation, were definitely disappointing. Still, he had to choose between a family increasingly seen as tainted with nepotism and a party sadly dominated by those whose vision of the future seems to be based on virulent hatreds inherited from the past.
The disappearing opposition
•So, that is not the main issue for me. It is this: that once Mr. Kumar made the switch, the opposition to the BJP was revealed as basically ineffective and non-existent. This seemed to follow the pattern at the Centre and in some other States. This is also far more worrying, because the BJP does exist as the ruling party today, but the opposition seems to exist less and less with each year.
•There are various reasons for it. These include the inability of the Congress to abandon its ruling family, compounded by the fact that Rahul Gandhi, as decent a person as any in politics, nevertheless lacks the type of political charisma that is required to lead a party to victory in India today. This is partly because the times have changed: the taluk classes call the political shots in India, and they cannot easily trust a very metropolitan person like Mr. Gandhi. I know; I come from those taluk classes, and I have difficulty trusting Mr. Gandhi’s equivalents in the literary world! But even without the times changing, compare the political acumen and sheer rhetorical presence of Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi with Rahul Gandhi’s performance, and you will spot a difference.
•The communists have long been split between a highly intellectual urban circle, which can get across only to people with university degrees, and a very parochial rural movement, which addresses genuine problems (for instance, the exploitation of aborigines at the hands of all governments), but in the very process limits its appeal to small regions. Even if you are a communist, it is impossible to imagine the supposedly revolutionary activities of Maoist groups finding any purchase outside remote parts of the hinterland.
•As for the rest, well, they seem to comprise parties led by powerful regional leaders, and often run by specific families. Sometimes the words come up — secularism, democracy, human rights, etc. — but they seldom seem to be anything other than rhetoric used by a certain group to obtain fleeting electoral support. In short, it is worrying: there is no substantial and coherent opposition left in India right now. Some people might argue that it exists at the grassroots. This is a deceptive argument: first, because it cannot be documented with numbers; and second, because in a working democracy any grassroots opposition needs to wear the face of at least some political party.
The great Indian tragedy
•Some of my BJP friends — not in the lunatic fringe, thankfully, but belonging to the old ideological core — smirk at this. They exult in the fact that the Indian opposition is either in disarray or divided up by narrow domestic walls. This worries me (also because the lack of a real opposition seems to be a spreading global problem, undergirded by the corporate logic of neoliberal capitalism and its enmeshment with nationalism).
•Any democracy needs a thriving and coherent opposition. The great tragedy of India does not seem to be the BJP, with which one can agree or disagree; the great tragedy of India is the lack of a real and issue-based opposition. The BJP’s ideology is reasonably clear, in both its extreme and moderate forms. But the opposition seems to lack a coherent and consistent platform. It largely fails to provide alternative views of government and it seldom responds cohesively to the BJP’s moves, leaving it to afflicted politicians to react singly.

When dry eyes need attention

The disease can be debilitating and diminish the quality of life
•Putting carboxymethylcellulose sodium in one’s eyes two, three or more times a day may not sound like a great experience. But I can assure you that it can be. Drops of this chemical, called a topical lubricant, help to keep my eyes from burning, avoiding bright lights, becoming red and itchy, and generally feeling miserable.
•Like tens of millions of Americans, especially women older than 50, I have dry eye disease, medically known as keratoconjunctivitis sicca.
•Dry eye is sometimes referred to as “a nuisance complaint — it’s not the sexiest of eye problems,” Dr. Rachel Bishop, chief consulting ophthalmologist at the National Eye Institute, U.S., told me. Nonetheless, she said, “Dry eye disease deserves serious professional — and personal — attention. It can be very debilitating and seriously diminish a person’s quality of life.”
Tear functions
•Tears serve a variety of functions, which accounts for the kinds of complications their deficiency can cause. They lubricate the eye, supply it with nutrients and oxygen, and help to focus images and clear the eye of debris.
•Untreated, severe dry eye disease can result in scarring, ulceration, infection and even perforation of the cornea, the clear outer layer of the eye that protects the iris, pupil and anterior chamber and accounts for much of the eye’s optical power.
•But the current and evolving knowledge of the nature of tears and their production has led to a better understanding of the various causes of dry eye disease and major improvements in treating this all-too-common condition.
•“We used to think that tears were like salty water — just add more liquid and you’ll be fine,” Dr. Bishop explained.
•“We now know that there are many hundreds of substances in tears, including 1,500 proteins, and three main components. We try to pinpoint why a particular person is experiencing dry eye and treat that person’s specific problem.”
•Tears are now known to have layers: an outer fatty layer produced by the meibomian, or tarsal, glands at the rim of the eyelids; a middle watery layer from the lacrimal gland in the upper outer corner of each eye; and an inner protein-rich lubricating layer of mucin from the goblet cells of the conjunctiva that covers the whites of the eyes and lines the eyelids. A disruption of any one of these systems can result in dry eye.
Causes of the disease
•Dry eye disease also turns out to have far more possible causes — and, as a result, various specific treatments — than was once thought. As the above description suggests, it is not just a matter of insufficient tears from the lacrimal glands.
•Possible causes include defects in the parts of the eye that produce each of the layers in tears; an inflammatory disease like allergy or chronic blepharitis (an inflammation of the eyelids); environmental conditions like tobacco smoke or a dry climate; a hormonal imbalance (as occurs, for example, at menopause); the use of contact lenses; a vitamin deficiency; an underlying systemic disease like diabetes or rheumatoid arthritis; prolonged use of certain medications (diuretics, antihistamines, antidepressants and cholesterol-lowering drugs, among others); and damage to nerves in the eye, as can happen in LASIK eye surgery.
•One of the more common chronic causes in older adults is Sjögren’s syndrome, an autoimmune condition that affects moisture-producing tissues throughout the body, including the lacrimal glands, Dr. Bishop said.
Possible treatments
•Among current possible treatments described by researchers at the Schepens Eye Research Institute and Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary, U.S., are topical applications of the immunosuppressant cyclosporin A; antibacterial and anti-inflammatory derivatives of the antibiotic tetracycline (like doxycycline); and high doses of essential fatty acids (the omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA in fish oil and flaxseed oil, used topically and orally) that inhibit inflammation and are now being tested in a major study funded by the National Eye Institute.
•When conventional remedies fail, speciality eye drops can be made using the patient’s own blood serum diluted with saline.
•Additional therapies are being tested. Results of an industry-sponsored study of a synthetic form of lacritin, a protein that stimulates tear production, are expected next year.NYT

The news and the noise about gene editing

•CRISPR, the gene-editing technology and acronym for clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats, and CRISPR-associated protein9 (Cas9) have created much enthusiasm among the scientific community lately. Although not the first tool in the field of gene editing, higher specificity, ease of use and the requirement of inexpensive reagents to selectively modify gene(s) of interest have made the system a potential game changer for research in genome engineering. Despite several applications, from microbial engineering to agriculture, its potential to correct genetic defects in human embryos and implanting healthy embryos in the wombs is why it’s drawing wide interest.
In a nutshell
•The latest trigger is a report in the science journal Nature . In the study, researchers claim to have used CRISPR-Cas9 to correct a heterozygous mutation (a type of genetic change where only one copy of the gene is defective) in the MYBPC3 gene for a patient with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a type of heart condition in which the muscle wall of the heart thickens abnormally.
•Gene editing with CRISPR-Cas9 starts with the introduction of circular DNA plasmids encoding components of the editing machinery into the recipient cells. The editing machinery consists of two parts, the DNA that codes for the Cas9 protein and another one for a specific RNA, called guide RNA or gRNA. In the recipient cell, the gRNA guides the machinery to the site of the genome where the Cas9 protein makes a double-stranded break next to the site of editing, which is subsequently repaired using the recipient cell’s endogenous DNA repair mechanisms. As Cas9 protein is produced from the introduced plasmid DNA, it stays in the recipient cell for a long time, resulting in the protein making cuts at additional unintended sites of the genome, causing ‘off-target’ effects or sometimes undesirable mutations.
•In the current study, the researchers’ key innovation involved using ways to obviate such mutations by using a pre-assembled system and ensuring that the Cas9 didn’t stay too long in the cell to stoke damage.
The future
•As news on the study’s therapeutic potential spreads, it is important to curtail the noise. Safety, efficacy along with the complex legal, societal and ethical issues need to get sorted before gene editing involving germ cells goes mainstream. India — like the rest of the world — has to pay special attention as both biological and surrogate women can be used to produce healthier babies.
•Patients with common genetic disorders in India, like, cystic fibrosis, sickle-cell anaemia, Duchenne muscular dystrophy and with rare genetic diseases like Hirschsprung’s disease and Gaucher’s disease will potentially benefit from the gene editing technology. However, proper policy framework and guidelines need to be in place involving research on genetic modifications in germ cells. We need to make sure that gene-editing in the human embryo does not culminate in live pregnancies but on the other hand encouraging ethical research involving unviable human embryos.
•In a country with mushrooming unregulated clinics practising in vitro fertilization (IVF) and pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) that often engage in unethical practices and commercial exploitation of potential parents, we need to be vigilant. In this direction, the introduction of The Surrogacy (Regulation) Bill, 2016 in Parliament is timely. It will be prudent to include stringent guidelines to eliminate germ line gene editing for human use altogether by the IVF and PGD clinics, at least for the time being.
•Although research related to germ line genetic engineering or reproductive cloning is prohibited in India, putting specifics on gene editing in the proposed National Ethical Guidelines for Biomedical and Health Research involving Human Participants, 2016 — prepared by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) — and in the Biomedical and Health Research Regulation Bill, 2015 will help strengthen safety measures in research involving human germ cells.

India team helps IBM create technology to battle hackers

‘The system makes it possible to encrypt every level of a network’
•IBM, one of the world’s largest technology companies said that it had achieved a breakthrough in security technology that would allow enterprises from banks to health care companies to retailers to encrypt their customer data at a large scale.
•The New York-based technology major said its system makes it possible for the first time to ‘pervasively encrypt’ every level of a network, from applications to cloud services and databases and prevent theft of information.
•This has been made possible by IBM Z (z14), a next-generation mainframe unveiled by the company in July. It is capable of running more than 12 billion encrypted transactions per day.
•“Data is the currency. It is equivalent to the future energy,” said Gururaj S. Rao, IBM Fellow and vice president, Systems Integrators, IBM z Systems, in an interview. He said that digitisation was providing value, but was coming with the challenge of information security as “data theft is on the increase.”
Indian team
•IBM, which reported a revenue of $79.9 billion in 2016, said that its India hardware and firmware team had made significant contributions to the z14 system and microprocessor development. It said that more than 100 engineers from its India labs worked on key components of both the core and the processor in the areas of logic design, verification, custom circuit design and tool development. The team has also contributed to the base firmware development, next-generation input/output enablement and in building newer virtualisation management capabilities.
•One of the key units designed by the India team is the encryption unit, that gives an unparalleled security feature to the z14 mainframe, said Mr. Rao.
•Known as ‘big iron’, a mainframe is a high-performance computer used primarily by large organisations for applications such as credit card payments, flight bookings and ATM transactions.
Pervasive encryption
•Of the more than nine billion data records lost or stolen since 2013, only 4% were encrypted, according to IBM. This makes the vast majority of such data vulnerable to organised cyber crime rings, state actors and employees misusing access to sensitive information. The company said IBM Z’s new data encryption capabilities are designed to address the global epidemic of data breaches, a major factor in the $8 trillion cybercrime impact on the global economy by 2022.
•Mr. Raosaid that data could be travelling, sitting on a cloud device or on the application. He said the new system could encrypt everything without requiring application level changes. “Regardless of where the data is, we will protect it. Other than IBM, no other vendor has been able to do it,” said Mr. Rao, a PhD from Stanford University.
•Another concern for users is the protection of encryption keys. In large firms, hackers often target encryption keys, which are routinely exposed in memory as they are used, the company said.
•It said IBM Z can protect millions of keys, as well as the process of accessing, generating and recycling them. It does this in ‘tamper responding’ hardware that causes keys to self-destruct at any sign of intrusion and they can then be reconstituted in safety.
•The Big Blue said it was now betting big on India to sell its new system to customers such as the government, large banks and healthcare companies. Viswanath Ramaswamy, director, Systems, IBM India and South Asia, said that with the growth in digital transactions in India across banking, finance and government, “our focus is to work with our ecosystem of partners and developers to deliver these new capabilities of IBM z14.”.

IIT Delhi team develops a new antibacterial drug-delivery system

The nanoconjugates will be useful for cancer patients suffering from bacterial infections
•A new antibiotic drug-delivery system that improves the efficacy of drugs thereby reducing the dosage used for treating bacterial infections has been tested in a lab by researchers at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Delhi. A peptide, which has not been approved for clinical use, bound to gold nanoparticles was able to kill E. coli and Salmonella typhi more efficiently at lower dosages.
•“Drug delivery becomes better and the bioavailability improves when the drug is conjugated [bound] to gold nanoparticles. So reduced dosage is sufficient to kill the bacteria. Reducing the dosage of antibiotics used is one of the strategies to reduce the possibility of drug resistance setting in,” says Dr. Neetu Singh from the Centre for Biomedical Engineering, IIT Delhi, and one of the corresponding authors of the paper published in the journal Scientific Reports.
Bioavailability
•The peptide in a free form may not be bioavailable as it gets degraded relatively fast. In a free form, the peptide is also not able to effectively kill the bacteria by engaging with the bacterial membrane and disrupting it, while the nanoconjugate fares better on these counts.
•The challenge was to arrive at an optimum number of peptides that are bound to nanoparticles to get the best results. When there are too few or too many peptides bound to the nanoparticles the antibacterial activity gets compromised. “There is significant antibacterial activity when about 1000 peptides are bound to a nanoparticle,” says Dr. Singh.
•The peptide called sushi-peptide bound to nanoparticles was able to kill 50% of bacteria at much lower concentration (400 nM) while the free peptide’s antibacterial activity was not significant at the same concentration, says Smita Patil from the Centre for Biomedical Engineering, IIT Delhi and one of the first authors of the paper.
•Besides normal cells infected with bacteria, the peptide bound to nanoparticles will be particularly useful in the case of cancer patients suffering from bacterial infections. “Rapid metabolism at the cancer site sucks al nutrients and leads to nutritional deficit in the body. When chemotherapy is given even the bacteria already present in the body but kept under check become disease-causing,” says Dr. Pankaj Chaturvedi, cancer specialist at the Tata Memorial Hospital, Mumbai.
•After chemotherapy the immunological response gets damaged as cells responsible for protecting against bacteria are reduced in number. So the person becomes vulnerable to infection. “Antibiotics by itself cannot kill all the bacteria. The inherent immunological response should be able to challenge the bacteria once antibiotic treatment is completed. Since this does not happen, the bacteria develop drug resistance,” says Dr. Chaturvedi.
Folate receptors
•Specific receptors called folate receptors are present in large numbers on the surface of cancer cells. Folic acid added to the nanoconjugates is recognised by these receptors and help in the binding process. “Once the nanoconjugates enter the cancer cells they interact with the bacteria and kill them by disrupting the cell membrane. The nanoconjugates have 40% better antibacterial activity compared with free peptides,” says Rohini Singh from the Department of Chemical Engineering, IIT Delhi, and one of the first authors of the paper.
•The nanoconjugate is not toxic to cancer cells and targets only the bacteria.
•“We would next like to study if our nanoconjugates can be used on antibiotic-resistant strains and also understand the fate of gold nanoparticles used for making the nanoconjugates,” says Dr. Neetu Singh. Instead of gold nanoparticle, biodegradable polymers can be used. The only condition is that the peptide should be able to interact with the bacterial membrane. A few more studies have to be carried out before the nanoconjugate can be tested on animals.

Learning from space and teaching from space

Though we have lost two great leaders of science, their “can do” and “never say impossible” spirit lives on.
•July 24 has turned out to a Monday of sorrow, since it was on that day that India lost two of its sons — two outstanding men of science, namely, the space scientist Dr. Udupi Ramachandra Rao (U.R. Rao for short), who made India a space-faring nation, and the scientist educator Dr. Yash Pal, who brought science to the homes of many across India.
•The fortnightly science journal, Current Science, published from Bengaluru, carries a series of articles termed ‘Living Legends in Indian Science’. Drs U.R. Rao and Yash Pal were two such legends who improved India through their scientific contributions. Dr. V. Jayaraman of the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) has written a detailed life history of Dr. Rao and his contributions to India’s space efforts in the 10 June 2014 issue of Current Science(which is available free on the web). Some sentences from this article are worth repeating here. Dr. Rao, born in 1932, wrote several scientific articles in 1963 when he was 31 years of age. When he published another paper in 2011 (when he was 79), a fellow scientist, Dr. Ron Cram, apparently remarked: “Is this same U.R. Rao who was publishing science papers back in 1963? Or is it his grandson?” Such was Dr Rao who, until almost the last day of his life went to work daily at the ISRO headquarters in Bengaluru.
Aryabhata to Mangalyaan
•Dr. Rao’s entry into space science began with his Ph.D. degree under the mentorship of Dr Vikram Sarabhai, who persuaded India to enter the space age and use satellite technology. After spending a few years in the US, working in areas of astrophysics and satellite studies, Rao returned to India in 1966, but right after that, he was asked by Sarabhai to prepare a blueprint for developing satellite technology in India. This he did with enthusiasm and built the first Indian satellite, called Aryabhata (named after the 5th century Indian mathematician), along with its smaller size models, within 36 months and within the stipulated budget. To quote Jayaraman again: “Rao says -Yes, I had a young team, though inexperienced, was very committed. Their unmatched enthusiasm, dedication, hard work, and the tremendous confidence, and their ‘never say impossible’ altitude were contagious, and became part of ISRO culture later”.
•With Rao at the helm, several satellites were made — Bhaskara 1, 2, Rohini and the communication satellite called Ariane Passenger Payload Experiment or APPLE. Carrying the satellite APPLE on a bullock cart (in order to check for electromagnetic compatibility) captured the continuity between Old and New India! It is this combination of mastering high end technology with an eye for economy and efficiency that has catapulted Indian space efforts to stellar heights. Name another nation that has successfully sent a spacecraft to Mars at a cost of Rs 450 crores!
Propagating Science
•While Dr. U.R. Rao, of Karnataka, typified calm and composure, his friend and comrade in arms, Dr. Yash Pal typified Punjabi exuberance. Prof. Ramanath Cowsik has written a beautiful article on this legend, in the 10 July 2015 issue of Current Science. Yash Pal, too, trained as a physicist and worked on cosmic rays at the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Mumbai, from where he was called by Dr. Satish Dhavan (who succeeded Dr. U.R. Rao at ISRO) to head the Space Application Centre (SAC) at Ahmedabad, and to launch the ambitious educational programme called Satellite Instructional Television Experiment or SITE. He collected a group of eager youngsters, devised programmes on education, agriculture, health and hygiene and related topics. These were uploaded on the satellite ATS-6 and broadcast across over 2400 TV sets across urban and rural India. These were received enthusiastically by the viewers.
•The SITE experiment was novel, first of its kind anywhere, and successful. How did the Yash Pal team manage to do it? Cowsik quotes Yash Pal thus: “A civilization that protects its young from the hassles of doing things themselves deprives them of great joy, and ultimately leads its society into a state of permanent dependence… Let us just do it ourselves”. Recall that Dr. U.R. Rao said the same thing in different words.
•Yash Pal moved on to take on further assignments and tasks for the government, including the chairmanship of the University Grants Commission (UGC), Secretary of the Department of Science and Technology (DST), and others. Among the many initiatives and innovations he launched, public understanding of science became an important one. As the Chairman of UGC, he gave fillip to the recently established Educational Media Research Centres (EMRC), and using Doordarshan to broadcast regular programmes from them, called “Countrywide Classrooms,” an initiative that continues to this day.
•Quite apart from these, Yash Pal captured the hearts of millions of Indians through the TV series “Turning Point”, where he would frequently come and answer questions from schoolchildren and explain science in the simplest of terms, remarkably successfully. For many children, he became known as Yash Pal Uncle (just as his hero Jawaharlal Nehru was called Chacha Nehru).
•On a personal note, my wife Shakti and I have lost a caring and encouraging friend. She produced hundreds of programmes in science and arts for “Countrywide Classrooms,” from the EMRC at the Central Institute of English and Foreign Languages, Hyderabad (now called the English and Foreign Languages University), and I used to appear often in “Turning Point,” along with him. And Shakti’s sister’s husband, the late Dr. M.M. Chaudhri, produced “Turning Point” for quite a while.
•In Dr. U.R. Rao and Prof. Yash Pal, we have lost two great leaders of science. One helped us go into space in order to learn about the universe, while the other used space to teach us. Though they are gone, their “can do” and “never say impossible” spirit lives on.

Elephant dung shows stress levels

Traces of hormones come through in the dung and indicate this
•Asian elephant stress levels peak during dry seasons, when resources are low. This is what studying leftover hormones in elephant poop unravels. The method could be an important non-invasive tool to study the health of wild pachyderm populations in India, finds a new study. In the future, it could also help test the efficacy of management interventions introduced to conserve the endangered species.
•With shrinking habitats, India’s endangered elephants face food shortages and increased disturbances in their environments. The resulting physiological stress (a result of secretion of stress hormones such as glucocorticoids) can be beneficial for elephants, helping them escape from threats. However, if prolonged, the stress can affect their health, reproduction and even survival. Stress levels are often high in emaciated pachyderms: so can hormones – traces of which come through in elephant dung – be an indicator of elephant health?
•Scientists at the Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru, examined changes in visual body condition scores of 261 elephants in the Mysuru and Nilgiri elephant reserves in south India during wet and dry seasons, scoring their ‘body condition’ on a scale of one (for very thin pachyderms) to five based on the visibility of bones. They also analysed faecal glucocorticoid metabolite (fGCM) levels in the fresh dung of the elephants they observed, to see if stress hormones were a good indicator of body condition across seasons. To study annual patterns, they repeated this for nine female elephants across seven years.
•The findings, published in Conservation Physiology, show that the body condition of elephants deteriorated during dry seasons, and has a strong relationship with fGCM levels (especially in females). As body condition deteriorated, stress hormone levels spiked.
•“Many conservation studies focuses on how animals behave when they are disturbed, how their population declines or changes. But they forget to address how such changes affect the internal health of an animal. Measuring fGCM will tell us how elephants are affected by either intrinsic or extrinsic factors. Our study is the first to examine this in free-ranging Asian elephants,” says doctoral researcher Sanjeeta Sharma Pokharel, lead author of the study.
•“The sudden change in the profile of fGCM after any management intervention would definitely indicate the strong association between stress response and management practices,” she says.

New tool to detect cervical cancer

The menstrual pad test can become a stress-free screening method
•Testing menstrual blood present on menstrual cloth can help detect human papilloma virus (HPV), which is one of the main causes of cervical cancer, researchers from Mumbai’s Tata Memorial Centre and National Institute for Research in Reproductive Health (NIRRH) have found. The study was carried out on over 550 women aged 30 to 50 years at two rural populations in Maharashtra. The results were published in the journal European Journal of Cancer Prevention.
•Cervical cancer is a major public health problem in India, and although there are cervical cancer screening tests, most rural Indian women fear the test and see it as an unpleasant experience.
Samples testing
•Over 190 eligible women were recruited for the study from two villages close to Jamkhed Tahsil of Maharashtra. The women who consented underwent HC2 testing to detect HPV. All the women, whether positive or negative for HPV, were asked to store their cloth pad used on the first day of period and immediately hand it over to the health worker. The collected menstrual cloth samples were sent to NIRRH for testing.
•The DNA extracted from the dried menstrual blood was amplified and tested for HPV. Over 3% positive HPV cases were detected from this area (both HC2 and DNA study showed positive). They underwent further vaginal examination and treatment. Two cases of cervical lesions were also diagnosed.
Additional study
•After satisfactory results from first area, another rural population with significantly better social indicators was studied. Over 360 women from 16 villages from Mulshi area of Pune district were selected for the study. However, the women were not tested for HPV but their menstrual blood was tested.
•From this population, 4.9% cases were diagnosed as HPV positive using DNA tests. The HPV positive women and a few HPV negative women underwent vaginal examination, HC2 test and PAP smear test (another cervical cancer test).
•The sensitivity of the menstrual pad HPV testing in the first and second area was 83% and 67%, respectively, and the specificity was 99% and 88% in the two areas. The reduced sensitivity at second area could be due to electricity failure in the health centre as the samples need to be continuously stored at -20⁰C.
•According to the researchers, the menstrual pad DNA testing could be used instead of PAP smear test as PAP test has several limitations such as very low sensitivity of around 50% and the method of sample collection is both painful and invasive.
•“Most of the women in these villages are daily wagers and do not want to waste a day for clinical screening. There is low participation in community screenings as they are shy and also fear the test. By using menstrual pad/cloth as a screening tool we can provide comfort and convenience to the participants,” says Dr. Atul Budukh, Assistant Professor at Tata Memorial Centre and the first author of the paper.
•By developing a simple method to mail the pads to the lab by participants itself, menstrual pad test can become a stress-free cervical cancer screening method, the authors write

The Hindu Notes 05th Aug,2017

ISRO set to launch satellite with corrected clocks

The move became imperative after all three rubidium atomic clocks on IRNSS-1A failed in mid-2016
•Indian Space Research Organisation will soon launch a replacement navigation satellite fitted with corrected atomic clocks to make up for the crippled satellite, IRNSS-1A.
•The upcoming IRNSS-1H will be sent up towards the end of August and a date is yet to be fixed, ISRO Chairman A.S. Kiran Kumar said. Its launch became imperative after all three rubidium atomic clocks on IRNSS-1A failed in mid-2016, Mr. Kumar told The Hindu . Three more clocks failed later across the fleet of seven satellites, which together had 21 atomic clocks.
•“We had problems with all [three] clocks in 1A and needed to bring in the replacement,” Mr. Kumar said, adding that the manufacturer had corrected the problem for the clocks in the new spacecraft. An internal committee had identified the cause of 1A’s failure. The new clocks are identical to the old ones.”
•The malfunctions [ The Hindu , January 30, 2017] struck the orbiting satellites even as ISRO completed putting the seventh and last regional navigation spacecraft, 1G, in orbit in April last year. The first one was put in orbit in July 2013.
•The Rs. 1,420-crore fleet, now called NAViC or Navigation Indian Constellation, is India’s own GPS-like system to give accurate information about location and time of persons or objects — in the same way as the older U.S. Global Positioning System or Russia’s GLONASS.
•Positional details are vital for civil and military aviation, defence needs, ATMs and individual users, besides transport on land, sea or air.
European problem
•The clocks for ISRO’s NavIC and the European Space Agency’s first 18 Galileo satellites came from the same Swiss company and developed similar problems around the same time. The two agencies had compared their navigation troubles. Mr. Kumar said the hardware solution was also similar for the two agencies.
•Clarifying that ISRO continues to use all seven satellites, he said the troubled 1A can still send low-powered messages and weather data that are useful to fishermen.
•“Basically four of these navigation satellites are sufficient for our functions. Within the 1,500 km range it makes no difference” except in the case of satellites put in geostationary orbits, he said.
•Without the clocks, IRNSS-1A gives a coarse value that cannot be used for functions that need precise data.

Cattle trade ban rules were not placed before Parliament

In reply to RTI plea, Lok Sabha Secretariat says Centre did not follow procedure
•The rules banning cattle slaughter were never placed before Parliament — which the government should have done before implementing them — the Lok Sabha Secretariat has said in its reply to an RTI request by one of the petitioners who has moved the Supreme Court challenging the ban.
•Having triggered an avalanche of litigation across the country, the Prevention of Cruelty to Animal (Regulation of Livestock Market) Rules of 2017, which bans the sale of cattle in livestock markets for the purpose of slaughter or animal sacrifice, is now back to the drawing board.
•Notified on May 23, the rules mandate that cattle should only be sold in animal markets for farming purposes.
•Section 38A of the Prevention of Cruelty Act of 1960 mandates that any rule made by the Centre under it ought to be laid before each House of Parliament “as soon as it is made.”
•The rules are to be placed before Parliament for a total of 30 days. Any modification agreed upon by both the Houses should be incorporated in the rules or else they would have no effect. The July 27 reply of the Lok Sabha Secretariat to petitioner Sabu Stephen’s RTI plea said Parliament had no information about the rules.
•The reply said in clear terms that the livestock rules were “not forwarded by the ministry concerned, ie, the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change, for laying on the table of the House so far. Hence, not laid till date.”
Rules suppressed
•“The government bypassed Parliament, suppressed the rules from the elected representatives of the people of the country and killed the parent Act… all this when over 70% of the country is affected by certain provisions of the livestock rules,” V.K. Biju, Mr. Stephen’s advocate, submitted.
•Additional Solicitor-General P.S. Narasimha admitted that he was not aware of the facts and sought an adjournment till August 9.
•“A simple reading of Section 38A tells us that you [government] cannot say ‘I will not place the rules before Parliament’,” Chief Justice J.S. Khehar, who is heading the Bench hearing the petition, said.
•Justice D.Y. Chandrachud added that Section 38A invokes the spirit that “laying a law before Parliament is important.”
•“It is an exercise of parliamentary control over the laws of the land,” Justice Chandrachud told the government. The information about the alleged lapse on the government’s part came to light during a hearing on an application filed by activist Gauri Maulekhi, who was seeking a clarification of a Supreme Court order on the issue on July 11.
•That day the court recorded the Centre’s submission that the Madras High Court had already issued a blanket stay on both Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Regulation of Livestock Market) Rules and The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Maintenance of Case Property Animals) Act, 2017.

SC for centralised system to select judicial officers

•The Supreme Court on Friday indicated a favourable attitude towards a centralised selection mechanism for appointment of judicial officers in the subordinate judiciary.
•A Bench led by Chief Justice of India J.S. Khehar said the court was even ready for a day-long hearing on the issue on August 22 to amicably resolve the objections of various States and High Courts to the proposal.
‘No breach’
•The Bench tried to assuage the concern of various States and High Courts, saying there would be no breach and interference in the federal structure.
•“We are trying to do some service to the nation. It is nobody’s gain. No country can progress if there is no functional and effective judiciary. No person from abroad would like to come to India and contest his case for 15 years. Citizen should have confidence in the judiciary,” it said.
•It directed the apex court registry to send a “concept note” of the proposal allaying the objections to all the Registrars-General of the High Courts and the secretaries of States’ Law Ministries.

India still talking to China, says MEA

‘Despite rising tensions, war not an option’
•Maintaining its silence on claims by the Chinese government that India has reduced troop levels on the Doklam plateau where they have been in a standoff with the PLA, the government on Friday said it would not comment on “operational details”, but continued to affirm that “war is not an option” despite rising tensions.
•“As far as questions on deployments are concerned, these are operational matters on our side or the other side and would not like to specifically go into them,” said MEA spokesperson Gopal Baglay, when asked about comments made by a senior Chinese diplomat in Delhi, who said India had reduced the number of troops sent in to stop a PLA road construction team on June 16, from about 400 at peak levels, to 48 as of Thursday.
Let the secret remain
•“We would continue to engage the Chinese side through diplomatic channels on the basis of the Astana consensus between our leaders,” he added, referring to the meeting between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Xi Jinping in early June, where they had agreed not to let “differences become a dispute.”
•Asked about what diplomatic channels are still available, given a rising number of threatening statements from China, Mr. Baglay said, “If you understand the signs, you should let a secret remain a secret,” ( Ishaaron ko agar samjho toh, Raaz ko raaz ko rahne do ), a reference to a 1973 Hindi film song. The remarks by the Ministry followed External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj’s statement in Parliament on Thursday in reply to questions from the Opposition over the government’s handling of foreign policy in general and the Doklam standoff with China in particular.
•On Friday, facing several questions on the issue from journalists, the MEA added that its refusal to comment on charges made by the Chinese government over the past few days of a “transgression by Indian troops”, didn’t signify that it was unprepared for an escalation in tensions.
•In an interaction on Thursday, Chinese Deputy Chief of Mission Liu Jinsong had warned that India would face “serious consequences” if it doesn’t withdraw all its troops from the area.

Motor Vehicles Bill sent to RS panel

Gadkari briefs MPs about the Bill
•A Bill seeking to bring radical changes in the transport sector by amending the nearly 30-year-old Motor Vehicles Act, 1988, would be sent to a Select Committee of the Rajya Sabha, Road Transport and Highways Minister Nitin Gadkari said after an all-party meeting here on Friday.
•Rajya Sabha MPs were briefed by Mr. Gadkari on the salient features of the Bill, which, the Minister added, would save “people from corruption” during registration of new vehicles. At many places, people are charged Rs. 2,000 to get their vehicles registered, Mr. Gadkari said.
Privatisation concerns
•Addressing concerns that the proposed legislation impinges on the rights of State governments, Mr. Gadkari said the Centre did not want to privatise State transport authorities, and that it was up to the States to accept the Bill’s provisions.
•“In the meeting of the leaders of all parties of Rajya Sabha today, chaired by Deputy Chairman P.J. Kurien, many of the parties sought more time to study the Motor Vehicles Bill, 2017, in view of very few days left in the current session. It was decided to send the Bill to the Rajya Sabha Select Committee,” Mr. Gadkari said.
•It had been agreed that the Select Committee, which will be constituted soon, would submit its report on the first day of the Winter Session and passed in that session, the Minister added.
•The Bill, which Mr. Gadkari termed “one of the biggest reforms in the sector”, aims to bring radical reforms in the transport sector.

New Bill to allow States to drop no-detention policy

States may be permitted to introduce exams in Classes 5, 8
•With some Bills pertaining to education already passing muster in either House of Parliament this session, the Ministry of Human Resource Development is looking to introduce a Bill to amend the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009, to enable States to do away with the no-detention policy if they wish.
•The Cabinet has cleared the introduction of the Bill and the Ministry wants it introduced in this session itself and passed in the next session.
•Twenty-five States had recently agreed with the idea of doing away with or tweaking the no-detention policy — wherein a child is not detained till Class 8 — to give a boost to levels of learning.
•Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Maharashtra did not ask for a rollback of the policy, however.
•The Centre has thus decided to allow States to take the call and to tweak the RTE Act to enable them to do so. The Bill is expected to permit States to introduce exams in Classes 5 and 8.
•Students who fail in the exams — to be held in March — will be given remedial training and offered another chance to pass in May. Those who still fail will be detained in the same class.
Falling standards
•Officials say there were complaints that the no-detention policy — aimed at retaining students in school and giving a fillip to education — led to learning levels taking a dip. The planned modification in the RTE Act is expected to arrest this trend.
•“Dropout rates till Class 8 are just 4%, but they rise to above 20% after that. This is because of the no-detention policy,” said a top HRD Ministry source.

Centre starts ETF for PSUs, lenders

‘Bharat 22’ is a diversified fund comprising 22 State-owned enterprises, public sector banks: Jaitley
•Finance Minister Arun Jaitley on Friday announced the introduction of Bharat 22, a new exchange traded fund (ETF) comprising 22 stocks including Central Public Sector Enterprises (CPSEs), public sector banks (PSBs), and Specified Undertakings of the Unit Trust of India (SUUTI).
•“The earlier ETF, the CPSE ETF, had many energy companies,” Mr. Jaitley said. “Bharat 22 is a well-diversified ETF spanning six sectors — basic materials, energy, finance, FMCG, industrials, and utilities.”
Focus on performance
•“While selecting the constituent, we tried to ensure that the Bharat 22 Index would be better performing than the previous indices,” Department of Investment and Public Asset Management (DIPAM) Secretary Neeraj Kumar Gupta said at the press conference. The CPSE ETF had raised Rs. 8,500 crore last year.
•ICICI Prudential would be the ETF Manager and Asia Index Private Ltd. would be the Index Provider.
•In his latest Budget speech, Mr. Jaitley had said that the government would be using ETFs to bolster its disinvestment efforts.
•“In 2016-17, the revised disinvestment target was Rs. 45,500 crore and the government realised Rs. 46,247 crore,” Mr. Jaitley said during the press conference on Friday. “This comprised CPSE, strategic disinvestment, and income from SUUTI. This year, the target was set at Rs. 72,500 crore and we have realised Rs. 9,300 so far.”
•The weightage in the Bharat 22 Index given to basic materials is 4.4%, energy 17.5%, finance 20.3%, FMCG 15.2%, industrials 22.6%, and utilities 20%. The banking segment includes stocks from State Bank of India, Axis Bank, Bank of Baroda, Indian Bank, Rural Electrification Corporation, and Power Finance Corporation.
•The energy segment includes Oil and Natural Gas Corporation, Indian Oil Corporation, Bharat Petroleum, and Coal India.
•“Globally ETF assets have grown significantly,” Mr. Jaitley said. “Globally today there are $4 trillion worth of assets under management (AUM). These are expected to touch $7 trillion by 2021.”
Boost for Indian Bank
•“The inclusion of Indian Bank in the ETF will give a boost to our valuation,’’ asserted its MD and CEO Kishor Kharat. “One good thing is that Navratna companies are put into ETF. If the Indian Bank is part of it, our status will go up,’’ he said.
•Investors often sought to know the government’s stake in the bank, he said. “When we go to raise equity in the market, it is always a concern for many investors as to how much the government is holding in the bank. The market always wants the government holding to come down in public sector banks. Our financial parameters are improving and if the government holding comes down, investors will get more attracted,’’ he said.

Punishing the victims

The steady erosion of the anti-dowry law will endanger countless women in genuine distress
•On July 27, 2017, the Supreme Court in Rajesh Sharma & Ors vs State of U.P. & Aanr , dealt another punishing blow to what has become a toothless anti-dowry law. When first enacted in 1961, the law sought to protect women from being killed or tortured in their marital homes by greedy husbands and in-laws. Thereafter, passionate advocacy by women’s rights activists resulted in the insertion of Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code, making the offence of dowry harassment cognisable and non-bailable, thereby bringing enormous relief to women who face virtually insurmountable obstacles in the public space, especially when taking complaints to the police or facing long-winded judicial proceedings.
•In a sense, Section 498A sought to level the playing field and further ensure the safety of women. However, as with all laws relating to women, the patriarchal, self-fulfilling argument that Section 498A had created a bunch of monstrous, disgruntled women determined to destroy family values and drag innocent husbands and in-laws to jail for their own nefarious purposes began to dominate the discourse.
Gradual dilution
•Following this, the first attempt to dilute Section 498A came from a 2014 judgment of the Supreme Court which mandated a nine-point checklist before any arrests could be made under Section 498A. Then followed the latest Supreme Court judgment which has almost irretrievably diluted 498A and rendered it nearly unreachable to victims. This judgment mandates a family welfare committee in every district to scrutinise dowry harassment cases. Members of this committee can be social workers or “anyone interested in the subject” and may also be paid an honorarium. The police are expected to consider the recommendations of this committee before making any arrest. It is not difficult to predict how such committees will operate in our male-dominated districts. The Supreme Court has also done away with the need for the accused to make a personal appearance in court in addition to other forms of relief.
•Sadly, the victim remains ignored in the judgment. As a result of these constraints, thousands of genuinely distressed women will not be able to access justice. Women victims, it would appear, become victims only if they die. While still alive, getting justice is a Sisyphean impossibility.
Subject of debate
•The 2014 and 2017 judgments of the Supreme Court diluting Section 498A are a compelling illustration of the fact that in the discourse relating to women’s issues, any movement which is even remotely progressive and seeks to empower women immediately becomes the subject of fierce controversy. Seven decades after Independence, Parliament remains unable to pass the constitutional amendment mandating 33% reservation for women in Parliament. No other legislation in the history of India, possibly the world, has been so fiercely resisted or pending for so long. Similarly, the impact of Section 498A, which was admittedly enacted to ensure the safety of women in their matrimonial home, should have been assessed to examine its effectiveness in preventing dowry deaths and cruelty to women in their matrimonial home. Perversely, but predictably, the attention of the judges, and indeed of a large section of society, is directed solely towards the alleged, perceived “misuse” of the section by “unscrupulous” women. Ironically, the concern is leavened by a crumb of concern about women, in this case the women who are “wrongly” arrested under Section 498A — the mothers and sisters-in-law. The judges observe that women who ought to use Section 498A as a shield are actually using it as a weapon against their unfortunate in-laws, going so far as to say “this court earlier noticed the fact that most of such complaints are filed in the heat of the moment, over trivial issues”, thus leading to “harassment of the accused”. This is a breathtaking assumption, and not based upon any substantial research whatsoever, nor do the judges quote such research.
The story from data
•In fact, the statistics cited by the judges lead to a contrary conclusion. They note the earlier observation of Justice C.K. Prasad that in 2012 two lakh arrests were made under Section 498A, including 47,951 women. Although chargesheets were filed in 93.6% of the cases, the conviction rate was only 14.4%. Based on this, the judges conclude that the complaints were frivolous and “trivial”. The actual fact of the matter is that in 93.6% of the cases, the police — notoriously unsympathetic to women — found the complaints worthy of chargesheets being filed. In other words, the complaints passed police scrutiny. Further, the low conviction rate of 14.4% is more an indictment of the agonising judicial process, which is time-consuming and drains women of their resources and resolve. Many just opt for settlement out of sheer frustration.
•In 2013, the conviction rate for rape was only 27.1%. Will the court now liberalise the penal provisions against rape? Money transactions are essentially only civil transactions. Yet, dishonour of a cheque is an offence under Section 138 of the Negotiable Instruments Act. The widespread misuse of this section by usurious moneylenders and financial institutions has never been publicly debated. The judiciary and civil society do not appear to ever discuss misuse or “abuse” of other laws and offences, although abuse of any law is possible, and does in fact happen. It is only when any law relating to the empowerment of women is enacted, that hysterical debate ensues about misuse of such a law and the sufferings of the accused.
•In a just society, a penal provision should be reviewed only after fully protecting the perspective of the victim. A total of 24,771 dowry deaths have occurred in India from 2012 to 2014, averaging more than 20 dowry deaths every single day. Thus, Section 498A is not only relevant but also vital for the protection of genuine victims. Alleged, perceived, and sometimes even some genuine cases of misuse of this law should not endanger the huge number of women who are in genuine distress. It is time to remember that the object of the law and democracy require that our suffering women be protected and not that safeguards for accused be constantly created.

Price of rapacity

The Supreme Court has laid downa benchmark for action against illegal mining
•In ordering that lease-holders should pay compensation to the extent of 100% of the price of the quantum of minerals they had illegally extracted, the Supreme Court has gone beyond a mere affirmation of the ‘polluter pays’ principle. It has also set a significant benchmark for stringent action against those who indulge in mining without environmental or forest clearance. Even the Central Empowered Committee had recommended compensation to the extent of 30% of the value of the iron ore and manganese ore illegally mined in Odisha, but the court has been firm about not compromising on the quantum of compensation. It is impossible to dispute the court’s reasoning that the defaulter or violator should bear the consequences of the illegality, and therefore cannot be allowed the benefit of “pocketing 70% of the illegally mined ore”. The mining companies tried every possible means of avoiding the tag that they had illegally mined iron or manganese ore. Some of them argued that they did not require environmental clearance as they had started operations prior to 1994, when the Environmental Impact Assessment Notification was first issued, and that unless there was an expansion, they did not require environmental clearance. Some said “illegal mining” was limited to mining activity outside the leased area, but the court has firmly ruled that any excess extraction within the leased area would also amount to unlawful mining. It has clarified that every renewal of a mining lease would require such clearance, even if there is no expansion, modernisation or increase in the pollution load.
•The apex court has been passing a series of orders on illegal mining activity, notably in Goa and Karnataka. It has often voiced concern over the extent to which mining laws are being flouted and how illegal mining is depleting the country’s natural resources. In this verdict as well, the court identified rapacious mining in Odisha as a cause for great concern. There appears to be no effective policy or effective check on mining operations, it has noted. In strong words, it has asked the Centre to revisit its National Mineral Policy, 2008, which “seems to be only on paper and is not being enforced, perhaps due to the involvement of very powerful vested interests or a failure of nerve.” It is clear that the country is already paying a heavy price for its failure to regulate mining operations in an effective manner in several parts of the country. It has become a source for corruption, excessive exploitation of natural resources and a scourge in the lives of forest dwellers and tribals. The petitioners before the court had stressed on the principles of intergenerational equity, the responsibility of every generation to conserve resources with subsequent generations in mind while exploiting nature. The court, understandably, has not set a limit for mining activities, but it has certainly flagged some issues for those in power to bear in mind.

The Hindu Notes 04th Aug,2017

End face-off peacefully: Sushma

We should be prepared for war, but it is not a solution, she tells Rajya Sabha
•External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj told the Rajya Sabha on Thursday that “war was not a solution,” referring to the ongoing standoff with the Chinese People’s Liberation Army at Doklam, adding that “wisdom was to resolve issues diplomatically.”
•Ms. Swaraj said “patience” was the need of the hour and India was not going to use any “aggressive language” in its response to the standoff at the Bhutan-India-China tri-junction.
•The Chinese Foreign Ministry has, in the past month, issued strong statements and warned India not to have any “impractical illusions,” adding it was “easier to shake a mountain than the PLA.”
•“We should be prepared for war, but war is not a solution. Even after the war, you have to sit for a dialogue. So why not look for a way out without going to war. We don’t want to win our neighbours by military power, but by being an economic superpower. It is a reality that China has invested $160 billion in India, while three years ago it was $140 billion,” Ms. Swaraj said, responding to a statement by Opposition leaders during a short duration discussion on India’s foreign policy and engagement with strategic partners.
•Sharad Yadav of Janata Dal (United), an ally of the BJP in Bihar, praised former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi for “cleverly annexing Sikkim with Russia’s help” but accused the current government of being a “stooge of the U.S.” Sitaram Yechury of the CPI(M) said that in the past three years, India had been reduced to a “junior strategic ally of the U.S.”
•Anand Sharma of the Congress said that after Prime Minister Narendra Modi met U.S. President Donald Trump, there was a missive from the PMO to the revenue department to reduce import duty on Harley Davidson motorcycles but there was no assurance on H-1B visas, which affect a large number of Indian professionals working in the U.S.
•Responding to the charges, Ms. Swaraj said that there was no drop in the number of H-1B visas for Indians and it had remained intact at 65,000 since 2004, when the United Progressive Alliance was in power.

India Post catches up with wildlife smugglers

Parts of endangered animals discovered in parcels
•The Wildlife Crime Control Bureau (WCCB) recently found that smugglers are using the postal service to sell parts of endangered animals. They stumbled upon feathers of the grey jungle fowl being smuggled out by the hundreds.
•These feathers with eyespots are used as fishing lures and were being sent to certain European countries. Earlier this year, another case came to light: Pangolin scales were smuggled to Southeast Asian countries, using the services of India Post.
•In an attempt to formulate a strategy to check such crimes in West Bengal and neighbouring states of Jharkhand and Odisha, an inter-agency co-ordination meeting was organised by the WCCB, Eastern Region in Kolkata on Thursday. Representatives of more than a dozen investigating and law enforcement agencies, border security forces and forest departments of the different eastern states participated.
•“It was decided to hold sensitisation workshops and train the postal department and other enforcement agencies and familiarise them with wildlife articles and modus operandi of criminal networks,” said Agni Mitra, Regional Deputy Director, Eastern Region, WCCB.
Tribal hunting a problem
•Keeping strict vigil during traditions like the Shikar Utsav (hunting festival) of the tribal regions of south Bengal, Odisha and Jharkhand was also reviewed.
•A large number of deer, wild boar, jungle fowl and other animals, which fall under the Schedules of The Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, are killed during this summer festival.
•WCCB representatives and the Border Security Force took stock of their preparedness to check turtle smuggling for which West Bengal is a transit route.
15,000 turtles
•During last winter, over 15,000 turtles were seized from West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh.
•“Wildlife smuggling is so huge that no one agency can tackle it. Inter-departmental coordination can help reduce such crime in Bengal, which is a transit route to Southeast Asia,” said Ajanta Dey, of Nature Environment and Wildlife Society.

China raises the heat on Doklam standoff

In sharpest comment by neighbour, diplomat warns of serious consequences if troops are not withdrawn
•India must withdraw its troops from the Doklam plateau or “face consequences”, a senior Chinese diplomat said here on Thursday.
•The remarks mark a serious escalation in rhetoric over the ongoing tensions between the two countries, as their Armies continue a six-week standoff near the India-Bhutan-China trijunction off Sikkim.
•“The crossing of the boundary line by Indian troops into the territory of China using the pretext of security concerns for a third party [Bhutan] is illegal,” the Chinese Deputy Chief of Mission, Liu Jinsong, told presspersons. “The troops should be withdrawn immediately; otherwise, there will be serious consequences.”
•Refusing to elaborate on what the “consequences” would be, the diplomat said the Indian action at Doklam was akin to “intruding into your neighbour’s house, and demanding the neighbour leave to ensure your withdrawal”. Quoting Chinese President Xi Jinping, he said, “Military option is the fundamental guarantor of sovereignty.”
•The diplomat’s comments, the sharpest so far from China, followed India’s rejection on Wednesday a 15-page statement of the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs saying the numbers of Indian troops on the stretch of the Doklam plateau, contested by both China and Bhutan, had reduced from 400 to “over 40”. Government sources said India had not reduced the number of troops.
China’s count
•Mr. Liu, however, said that as of Thursday, the Chinese Army had counted 48 Indian soldiers.
•“Even one Indian soldier violating Chinese sovereignty is too many,” he continued. “We cannot bear that for another hour, another day, and they must be pulled out immediately.”
•The diplomat said Chinese troops had notified India of their intention to repair a road in what it called its own territory on two occasions — May 18 and June 8.
•Sharing the specific details for the first time, China said it was “very shocking” for the Chinese side when Indian troops came over to the disputed territory. More significantly, the diplomat alleged that India had not, as the government had maintained, come to the rescue of Bhutanese troops in the area.
•Asked by The Hindu if China had been embarrassed by the Bhutan Foreign Ministry’s statement of June 30 that the Chinese road construction activity was in “direct violation” of previous agreements, Mr. Liu shot back, “From the Bhutanese statement, nothing reflects that the Bhutanese side invited or knew beforehand that India would send troops. Even if we accept a difference of view between China and Bhutan, we have many mechanisms to resolve them bilaterally.”
No comments: Bhutan
•Bhutan’s Ambassador to India V. Namgyal told The Hindu he would not comment on the remarks by the Chinese envoy, saying there was “nothing further to add” to the official statement.
•When contacted for a response, the External Affairs Ministry declined to add to its statement on Wednesday, where it said that “peace and tranquillity on the India-China border areas is an important prerequisite for smooth development of our bilateral relations with China.”

U.S. violating n-deal: Iran

•Iran said on Thursday that new U.S. sanctions were a violation of its nuclear deal with world powers, piling pressure on President Hassan Rouhani as he starts his second term. Mr. Rouhani vowed to keep up his efforts to end Iran’s isolation as he was sworn in by the Islamic Republic’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei following his re-election in May. “We believe that the nuclear deal has been violated and we will react appropriately,” Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi said. “We will certainly not fall into the trap of U.S. policy and Trump, and our reaction will be very carefully considered.”
•“We will never accept isolation,” Mr. Rouhani said as he was sworn in in front of top political and military officials.

‘Make In India’ yet to spur manufacturing, says panel

Parliamentary committee airs concerns over poor growth
•The Parliament’s Standing Committee on Commerce has questioned the country’s low manufacturing growth despite initiatives such as Make In India, Startup India and FDI reforms that are now more than two years old.
•The committee, led by BJP MP Bhupender Yadav, had expressed concerns about manufacturing growth averaging just 1.6% in the five years till 2015-16 and a 0.5% contraction in the sector in the first 9 months of FY17, in a report tabled in Parliament this March.
•In an action taken report tabled in Parliament on Wednesday, the department of industrial policy and promotion (DIPP), under the ministry of commerce and industry, has listed out the several measures taken by the government to promote manufacturing and ease the business environment.
•While expressing appreciation for the measures enumerated by the government, the Committee stressed: “However, it will serve better to remember that most of these initiatives are now more than two years old and the manufacturing growth has not yet gone to the desired level.”
•Urging the department to take effective steps to implement initiatives such as Make in India in a ‘more robust manner’, the committee has said all obstacles to the ‘optimal implementation’ of such programs must be removed in a time-bound manner.

India’s first private missile production facility unveiled

Hyderabad unit to supply anti-tank guided missiles to Army
•India’s first private sector missile sub-systems manufacturing facility, a joint venture between the $2.5 billion Kalyani Group and Israel’s Rafael Advanced Defence Systems Ltd., was inaugurated near Hyderabad on Thursday.
•To begin with, the Kalyani Rafael Advanced Systems (KRAS) plant will make anti-tank guided missile (ATGM) Spike and the production is expected to begin in a few weeks, Kalyani Group chairman Baba N. Kalyani said. Besides supplying to the Indian Army, the plan is to export to South East Asian countries, he added.
Advanced equipment
•Formed in line with the ‘Make in India’ initiative of the Centre and the policy to encourage private sector participation in defence production, the 51:49 joint venture will develop a wide range of advanced capabilities.
•These include command control and guidance, electro-optics, remote weapon systems, precision guided munitions and system engineering for system integration. The plant would employ more than 300 engineers and provide indirect employment to 1,000 people.
•Addressing the media ahead of the inauguration, Mr. Kalyani said Rs. 60-70 crore had been invested in the plant.
•Going forward, once orders start flowing, “we will invest more… also looking to [make] other products, he said, adding that Spice glider bombs used by the Air Force would be the next.
•On the plant’s ATGM capacity, Rafael Advanced Defence Systems president and CEO Maj. Gen. (retired) Yoav Har-Even said: “We are speaking in thousands of the air-to-surface missiles.”
•The localisation content is 90% and most of the vendors are in and around Hyderabad, Mr. Kalyani said.
•Telangana Industries and IT Minister K.T. Rama Rao, said that more than 30,000 researchers and scientists and 1,000 MSME units in and around the city were working in the areas of defence systems.

Big Mac index

Economics
•This is an index used to compare the price of a good across countries. The law of one price states that the price of a good sold internationally should converge as entrepreneurs try to profit from any price discrepancy. The purpose of the Big Mac index, which compares the price of the Big Mac burger across countries, is to establish the purchasing power parity between currencies. It has been published by the British magazine The Economist since 1986. One drawback of the Big Mac index is that goods that look physically similar to each other may not necessarily be similar in their economic nature.

Is India a good neighbour?

Foreign policy had earlier been driven by peace. The new priority to security has distorted India’s image
•There is no single yardstick to measure foreign policy successes and failures but the absence of crises is broadly viewed as a sound criterion. India’s foreign policy of late has come under sharp public scrutiny — especially the direction in which it is moving.
Frosty relations
•So, what do we see? On the one hand, an extremely frosty relationship with Pakistan. On the other, the relationship of stability with China built over three decades has been falling apart despite increased diplomatic engagement — not only because of Chinese mistakes but also because of the absence of innovative thinking in India to deal with its biggest neighbour.
•India lacks a coherent means to contain China except for nurturing some myopic ideas. The old time-tested friendship with Russia has been allowed to slip through our fingers by downscaling the levels of engagements and limiting the areas of interest over time. The tragedy is that China has shrewdly neutralised India’s close proximity with Russia while at the same time sustaining its nexus with Pakistan.
•Broadly speaking, Indian foreign policy relied on its deep resources of wisdom and inner strength based on a percept of it being a civilisational state, that was reflected in its international conduct. To that effect, foreign policy has been driven by peace rather than security. It gave India a global persona of benign international influence.
•There is a marked divergence from that position. Priority to security has distorted India’s image vis-à-vis its neighbours — especially when policies are pursued through the precolonial security-centric “zero-sum” or “frontier mindset” or even from a Cold War political prism. In fact, this approach has failed to stop China’s influence in India’s neighbourhood despite the “neighbourhood-first policy”.
•Seventy years is not a short period for India to come up with a sound and clear statecraft device. Yet we see a clear lack of finesse in India’s approach, more so when the world has moved away from a bilateral to a multilateral context.
•In our pursuit to gain great power status, we have slipped into apathy in transforming our old arrangements with smaller neighbours like Bhutan and Nepal. Instead of developing India as a regional economic hub, we are turning it into a fortress by overemphasising on border security.
Getting fundamentals right
•A better option to probe future ties would be to return to the strategic fundamentals. A good example to emulate is the top-down waterfall approach espoused by Russia and China to lower tensions between them.
•At the same time, India need not see China as an object of disdain in perpetuity — a narrative often sold by the West. An honest attempt to build a new paradigm of India-China trust grounded on the shared historical and cultural awareness, as also on the collective wisdom of ordinary citizens on both sides, may prove to be more effective. For India to emerge as a global power of any reckoning, it has to realise that a narrow tactical pursuit devoid of strategic thinking will lead to nowhere. We need to reframe our terms of relationship with China; rethink our own posture; rescue ourselves from experiencing a delusion of grandeur and instead persevere to emerge as a confident and aspiring regional power.
•Of course, one cannot judge foreign policy on the ephemeral flux of events only. What is seen as success today may turn out to be blunder tomorrow. Also, foreign policy failures may not always be the consequences of a botched-up diplomacy; it can be the result of a misplaced and impractical pursuit of goals.

It’s time to enact an anti-lynching law

But a civil society draft doing the rounds is too shy to clearly call out the threat to minorities

•In a civilised society, even one lynching is too many. But India has seen a spate of them of late. The data websiteIndiaSpendhas compiled instances of cow-linked violence from 2010 to 2017. It found that during this period, 28 people were killed in 63 such incidents.
•An overwhelming 97% of these attacks took place after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government came to power in May 2014. About 86% of those killed were Muslims. In 21% of the cases, the police filed cases against the victims/survivors. Cow-related lynchings rose sharply in 2017, with 20 attacks in the first six months. This marks a 75% increase over 2016, which had been the worst year for mob lynchings since 2010.
•The groundswell of public disgust at the lynchings crystallised under the banner of the National Campaign Against Mob Lynching (NCAML), which has initiated a campaign for a law against mob lynching. Also known as ‘Masuka’, short for Manav Suraksha Kanoon (law to protect humans), a draft of the proposed legislation is currently up on the Internet, awaiting suggestions from the public.
•The primary argument of the activists and lawyers advocating an anti-lynching law is that it fills a void in our criminal jurisprudence. It is true that at present there is no law that criminalises mob killings. The Indian Penal Code has provisions for unlawful assembly, rioting, and murder but nothing that takes cognisance of a group of people coming together to kill (a lynch mob).
•It is possible, under Section 223 (a) of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC), to prosecute together two or more people accused of the same offence committed in the course of the “same transaction”. But the provision falls far short of an adequate legal framework for prosecuting lynch mobs.
•The NCAML’s draft Protection from Lynching Act, 2017 defines, for the first time in Indian legal history, the terms ‘lynching’, ‘mob’ and ‘victim’ of mob lynching. It makes lynching a non-bailable offence, criminalises dereliction of duty by a policeman, criminalises incitement on social media, and stipulates that adequate compensation be paid, within a definite time frame, to victims and survivors. It also guarantees a speedy trial and witness protection.
The apprehensions
•On the face of it, it is difficult to fault the intent or the provisions of the draft legislation. Nonetheless, two aspects merit close scrutiny: the potential for abuse, and the underlying premise that a generic anti-lynching law could address India’s lynching problem.
•On the question of misuse, the provisions empowering local law enforcement officials to take pre-emptive action could easily be invoked to criminalise peaceful public assembly, especially if the gathering is of workers or members of marginalised communities agitating for their rights. For instance, the police could use this law to detain a group of labourers planning a dharna, on the grounds that they constitute a mob that poses a threat to company officials.
•To take another example, the ‘Review Committee’ that would monitor the prosecution of cases under this law is supposed to be headed by a senior police officer. Its findings would be submitted to a senior police officer. In a scenario where the police often serve as the handmaiden of the ruling dispensation, could we realistically expect one member of the police force to hold another accountable? Would it not have been prudent to mandate that the Review Committee make its report public or have members from civil society?
A category error
•No one can dispute that a major reason for the recent rise in lynchings is impunity. It can be reasonably assumed that the lynch mobs that murdered Mohammad Akhlaq in Dadri, Pehlu Khan in Alwar, and Hafiz Junaid in Haryana were confident of getting away with it. So far, the state has done little to shake that confidence.
•The NCAML activists must know that this confidence has little to do with legislative lacuna. Rather, it has everything to do with the law enforcement machinery taking the side of the lynch mob. This phenomenon has been observed time and again in cases of targeted violence against minorities — which is precisely what cow-related lynchings are.
•Put simply, the problem is not mob lynching per se but the mob lynching of minorities, for that is where impunity kicks in. We can be certain that if a mob of factory workers were to lynch someone from the management, retribution would be swift. The historical proof of this argument, if one were needed, was supplied by the lynching of Maruti Suzuki’s HR manager in July 2012. The police arrested 148 workers and charged all them with murder.
•Evidently, the state can act, if it wishes to, using the existing provisions of the law. It is a matter of whether it is in its interests to do so. In the case of cow-linked lynchings, a lot depends on whether the incumbent in power considers it compatible with its political interests to crack down on such attacks.
It’s about communalism
•It is therefore mystifying why the advocates of Masuka appear reluctant to name the problem for what it is: targeted communal lynchings. Perhaps they feel that doing so carries the risk of their campaign being dismissed as a ‘minority issue’. But it actually is a minority issue, and that is why the majority needs to take it up.
•It is understandable that in a climate of majoritarianism, any political mobilisation for the protection of minorities would be anxious about the bogey of minority appeasement. It could even mean that an anti-lynching Bill stands less chance of making it through Parliament. But then, a truly ‘civil’ society should feel no hesitation in demanding that the state protect its minorities because protection of minorities is one of the biggest responsibilities of any democracy. The UN has a Special Rapporteur for minority issues precisely because it recognises that “minorities in all regions of the world continue to face serious threats”.
•India already has an antidote – two, in fact – to combat the impunity enjoyed by anti-minority lynch mobs. The first is the Prevention of Communal and Targeted Violence (Access to Justice and Reparations) Bill, 2011, or the Anti-Communal Violence Bill. The other is police reforms, which are pending despite the Supreme Court ordering their implementation.
•The Anti-Communal Violence Bill was buried because it was felt that it threatened the autonomy of States by mooting a parallel structure that undermined federalism. This is a misrepresentation, and the Bill needs to be revived for three reasons: it fixes command responsibility for communal incidents; it recognises that targeted communal violence disproportionately victimises minorities; and it creates a mechanism to insulate investigations of communal violence from political interference. The last reason is also why police reforms are vital, and a purely legislative approach to tackling anti-minority violence could prove ineffective.
•The draft anti-lynching law needs to be revised to incorporate these key elements of the Anti-Communal Violence Bill. Second, the demand for an anti-lynching law needs to be buttressed by a parallel campaign for police reforms. All said and done, even the best of laws can achieve little in the face of a law enforcement machinery primed to do the bidding of its political masters.

Restoring Parliament’s primacy

A Parliamentary Budget Office would help MPs provide effective oversight
•In India, establishing a Parliamentary Budget Office (PBO) is a due concern. A PBO is an independent and impartial body linked directly to Parliament that provides technical and objective analysis of Budgets and public finance to the House and its committees. As ‘the guardian of the public purse’, Parliament must play a greater role in budgetary governance. Its core functions include Budget approval, scrutiny of its implementation, and holding the government to account. However, Parliament lacks the capability to perform such functions effectively. The result is often an arbitrary taxation policy, burgeoning fiscal deficit, and an inequitable allocation of public resources.
Greater budgetary oversight
•Multiple indicators suggest that executive-led budgetary governance has not been successful in India. The unequal distribution of public resources is a prevalent issue. Despite high economic growth, India suffers from inexcusable income inequality, poverty, unemployment, malnourished children, preventable diseases, systemic corruption, and underinvestment in key social services such as health and education.
•Budgets can be seen as ‘contracts between citizens and the state’ or as ‘treaties among citizens negotiated through politics’. Indian political economy literature fails to adequately address the role of Parliament and State legislatures in public finance management. The role of Parliament and State legislatures in budgetary decision-making and oversight is far from satisfactory; it is meaningful to have a well thought-out legislative-executive balance of power in budgetary governance.
•The Indian Parliament is a Budget-approving body contributing to budgetary matters in the following notable ways: presentation of the Budget; scrutiny of the demands for grants of various ministries; debate; consideration and approval of the Budget. To carry out these functions effectively, Parliament requires institutional, analytical and technical competence. Some have argued that a ‘Budget-approving’ Parliament does not require a functioning PBO. This argument, although common, is unsound. When Parliament is a Budget-approving body, its members must be well-informed for a legitimate approving process. Establishing a PBO within Parliament is undoubtedly necessary. It is an instrument for addressing bias towards spending and deficits and, more significantly, for enhancing fiscal discipline and promoting accountability. Further, it can generate quality public debate on Budget policy and public finance, enabling parliamentarians to engage meaningfully in the Budget process.
•There is a growing trend among legislatures, particularly within the OECD countries to establish specialised Budget research units. Traditionally, independent budgetary units are more common in developed countries, but many developing countries are now establishing such entities; for example: Benin, Ghana, Kenya, South Africa, Morocco, the Philippines, Uganda, Nigeria, Liberia, Thailand, Afghanistan, and Vietnam. The other functioning PBOs are in countries such as the U.S., Canada, Australia, Austria, South Korea, Italy, and Mexico. There are PBOs established in subnational legislatures, such as California, Ontario, Scotland, and New South Wales. Additionally, New York City has a well-functioning Independent Budget Office (IBO).
Role of a PBO
•The majority of PBOs have four core functions: independent and objective economic forecasts; baseline estimate survey; analysing the executive’s Budget proposal; and providing medium- to long-term analysis. Costing is standard practice for many PBOs. Budgets generally start with an economic forecast. A PBO can present either its own independent forecast or it can validate the government’s, providing an objective analysis on the official forecast.
•A PBO can perform other tasks depending on its mandate, resources and requirements of parliamentarians or committees. These may include general economic analysis, tax analysis, long-term analysis, options for spending cuts, outlining a budgetary framework that reflects priorities of the nation, bespoke policy briefs.
•A PBO is different from general parliamentary research services and information wings. It also differs from finance committees and the Public Accounts Committee. A PBO is comprised of independent and specialised staff, such as Budget analysts, economists, public finance experts. The PBO must be non-partisan, independent and mandated to serve all parliamentarians. Furthermore, the core functions of the PBO should be codified in law. Its output, and the methods by which those outputs are prepared, must be transparent, accessible and understandable.
Onus on parliamentarians
•Parliamentary scrutiny of public finance is an important aspect of governmental accountability. There is a legitimate democratic need in this country to strengthen the capacity of Parliament and its members. An unprecedented change has taken place in the way citizens view the government’s stewardship of taxpayer resources. This demands a consideration of global standards and best practices to promote financial and budgetary transparency.
•Parliamentarians have a role in establishing the PBO. As representatives of the people, they can help improve Budget policies by providing inputs on public needs and priorities. Similarly, a PBO can ensure that parliamentarians are well-informed to perform their budgetary and oversight functions effectively. A PBO in Parliament will have a positive impact on the House’s ability to carry out budgetary oversight and fiscal decision-making. However, this will not be an easy task. It is likely to attract opposition from the bureaucracy as any aspect of strengthening Parliament (or State legislatures) has always been unwelcome and met with less consideration from the executive. Parliament, with its long-standing traditions of non-partisan legislative services to MPs in India, will find more favourable consensus among all parties for the proposal to establish a PBO. However, establishing the PBO in India will require unremitting political will and public support.

The NOTA principle

The Congress and the BJP protest too much about its introduction in Rajya Sabha polls
•Should NOTA (none of the above) be an option in a State Assembly vote for the Rajya Sabha, as it is for the electorate in direct elections? Following the Gujarat Assembly secretary’s statement that the “NOTA” option will be available on the ballot paper in the Rajya Sabha election next week, both the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party have sought to convince the Supreme Court and the Election Commission that MLAs should not have this option. The Supreme Court refused to stay the process to allow NOTA, saying that the provision has been in place since April 2014 after a direction by the EC. It is important to note that open ballots are used in the Rajya Sabha elections. These elections follow a proportional representation system based on the single transferable vote, unlike the general elections to the Lok Sabha, which are conducted with secret ballots (or votes) and based on the first-past-the-post principle. The idea behind the use of NOTA is to allow the voter to register a “protest” vote if none of the candidates is acceptable to her for whatever reason. While NOTA votes are tallied, the candidate with the highest number of votes polled is declared elected irrespective of the NOTA total. In the case of the Rajya Sabha elections, the vote allows for the preferential ordering of candidates. If an MLA chooses NOTA, the vote is rendered ineffective.
•In principle, the presence of the NOTA option for the legislator allows the possibility of a protest vote against the party high command for choosing candidates who are not agreeable to her, without having to choose candidates from opposing parties. The principle of a protest vote remains the same even if these are indirect elections. The party high command can issue a whip for a Rajya Sabha candidate, but anti-defection law provisions do not apply, and a defiant MLA is not disqualified from membership of the House. The Supreme Court has in the past held that open ballot votes in Rajya Sabha elections against the whip will not lead to disqualification as the Tenth Schedule, pertaining to anti-defection provisions, has a different purpose. The Congress party’s protest on the introduction of NOTA draws from anxiety about mopping up sufficient votes to have its nominee Ahmed Patel elected to the Rajya Sabha. Six of its MLAs have already resigned, and there is concern that some of the remaining MLAs may not heed the party whip. Overall, both the Congress and the BJP probably have longer-term worries about keeping control of their flock in Rajya Sabha elections. But it is not as if MLAs have previously fallen in line meekly on such occasions. Therefore, instead of struggling against the democratisation of indirect elections, through reforms such as the NOTA option, parties would be better off relearning the art of floor management.

The Iran question

India’s West Asia relations are no longer viewed through the Israel-Palestine prism
•Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s widely publicised trip to Israel last month was labelled as de-hyphenating the traditional vector of Israel-Palestine in Indian strategic thinking in West Asia, without damaging relations with Arab states. The final say on this balancing, however, will be determined by Iran.
•Historically, India has projected Israel as an apartheid regime. Despite the latter’s drawn-out courtship, it was a weakening of old structures that ushered new ideas into Delhi’s decision-making and, in 1992, mutual securities became salient. Since then, cooperation and trade have improved steeply. Not unusually, and simultaneously, India has maintained support for the Palestinian cause. Despite not making the customary stopover in Ramallah during his trip, the ground was privately prepared when Mr. Modi welcomed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to Delhi in May. The relative quiet across Arab states during Mr. Modi’s visit and conversations with diplomats in the region reveal that India’s West Asia relations are no longer viewed through the prism of Israel-Palestine, but the changing security landscape in the region pertaining to Iran.
•A new political order in West Asia is in full force, led assertively by Saudi Arabia, and one that regards Iran as the existential threat. The assumption in some sections of the international community, that India’s ties with Israel naturally negate the South Asian power’s relationship with the Arab nations, specifically of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), is misguided. Indeed, Mr. Modi would not have made the visit to Israel had he calculated that such a trip would antagonise the Sunni Arab leaders who have shown concrete interest in India’s growing market and improving regulatory environment. India, in turn, looks to the region for its constantly expanding natural gas and crude oil thirst. Essentially, Arab leaders can today live with their allies operating with the Israelis, but not with the Iranians. Since the Iran nuclear deal, insecurities among Tehran’s rivals, supported increasingly by the Trump White House, have gone into overdrive. That the Iranian leadership is fully aware of these shifting dynamics was on show in the days leading up to Mr. Modi’s Israel visit.
•Twice in the space of 10 days, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei linked the plight of Muslims in Gaza, Yemen, and Bahrain, with, unexpectedly, those in Kashmir. The timing and frequency of his comments, which were so close to the Israel visit, cannot be underplayed. The Iranians will have been aggrieved by the visit coupled with India’s unambiguous pro-Riyadh tilt. Despite this, ties between India and Iran will not cease any time soon, but run on an independent track. Indeed, they are currently developing the geopolitically valuable Chabahar port on the Gulf of Oman. But rising economic stakes in Delhi and a new regional order will mean that India cannot maintain its traditionally equidistant, neutral position in West Asia for long. These pathways will be stress-tested soon if India desires a concrete regional strategy beyond tactical visits.

Evicting unauthorised VIP occupants

There is now a solution to the problem
•The Supreme Court once said there is no law to “entirely control the act of disobedience” of powerful but unauthorised occupants of government residential accommodations.
•In S.D. Bandi versus Divisional Traffic Officer (2013), a Supreme Court Bench led by Justice P. Sathasivam observed that unauthorised occupants of public property should realise that “their act of overstaying in the premise directly infringes the right of another”.
•The Public Premises (Eviction of Unauthorised Occupants) Act of 1971, which prescribes eviction of unauthorised occupants from public premises, has proved largely ineffective before VIP tenants of government residences.
•Efforts to evict an unauthorised occupant are often met with resistance and years of litigation. Instead of complying with the eviction order, the tenant prefers to move court.
•The Public Premises (Eviction of Unauthorised Occupants) Amendment Bill, introduced in the Lok Sabha, comes up with an answer for this problem. It proposes to insert a new sub-section (3A) in Section 7 of the 1971 Act to the effect that if an unauthorised occupant goes to court against an eviction order, he/she will be bound to pay “damages” for every month of his/ her stay in the particular residential accommodation.
•As per the existing allotment rules, the occupants have to vacate on the expiry of the licence. The 1971 Act calls for the “smooth, speedy and time-bound” eviction of unauthorised occupants. The law calculates that an eviction proceeding in court, in case the tenant refuses to vacate, would take five to seven weeks. A subsequent appeal before a higher court would mean another four weeks in the least. But reality is contrary to what the law envisages on paper. It may take years of effort and public money to actually nudge out an unauthorised occupant.
•The 1971 Act provides for summary eviction proceedings, under which the estate officer does not have to follow an elaborate procedure for serving notice, show cause, inquiry and hearing before passing the eviction order. But this procedure is not applicable to residential accommodations. This loophole in the existing 1971 Act has been exploited by unauthorised occupants who resort to dilatory tactics or move the High Court for a stay of the eviction order.
•On this, the Amendment Bill has proposed the insertion of a new Section 3B. It proposes to extend summary eviction procedure to residential accommodations too. The unauthorised occupants would be provided a showcause notice of only three days.

The Hindu Notes 03rd Aug,2017

Seven species of grasshoppers found

Discoveries made in Chhattisgarh in a span of 20 months

•A small-granulated dark black and brown coloured pygmy grasshopper measuring about 9.07 mm revealed itself to the world in the forests of Chhattisgarh last month. Collected from moist deciduous forests in Korba district, the species was named Coptotettix korbensis. Scientists from the Zoological Survey of India, Sunil Kumar Gupta and Kailash Chandra, have published the details of the new species in international science journals Zootaxa and Annales de la Societe Entomologique de France .

•A few months ago another paper published in Halteres by the same authors brought to light a species of the short-horned grasshopper Epistaurus tinsensis. The species was collected from the Barnawapara Wildlife Sanctuary in Raipur.

•Slightly larger than the recently discovered species, Epistaurus tinsensis has a yellowish brown body with dense long silvery pubescence.

•Coptotettix korbensis and Epistaurus tinsensis are two new discoveries in 2017, but what is interesting is that seven species of grasshoppers have been discovered in the forests of Chhattisgarh in a span of just 20 months.

•The five others were discovered in 2016. Four of the new discoveries were pygmy grasshopper Euparatettix dandakaranyensis from Bastar district of South Chhattisgarh, Poekilocerus geniplanus and Hedotettix angulatus from Barnawapara Wildlife Sanctuary and Ergatettix subtruncatus from Durg district of Chhattisgarh. Heteropternis raipurensis, a species of short-horned grasshopper, was discovered from Raipur district.

Difficult terrain

•Both pygmy and short-horned grasshoppers belong to Orthoptera (an order of Insecta) and one of the major differences between them is pronotum (prominent plate-like structure that covers all or part of the thorax of some insects). This extended backwards to cover abdomen in the pygmy, which is not the case with the short-horned.

•Kailash Chandra, Director of ZSI, said the faunal diversity of the Chhattisgarh forests have not been explored earlier because of the difficult terrain and left-wing extremism.

•“We have collected a lot of specimens of insects from 2011 after we signed an agreement with the Chhattisgarh government. The seven discoveries are not all. There are a number of other findings lined up for publication in the coming months,” Mr. Chandra said.

•Mr. Gupta, who is behind the discoveries, said there are 1,033 species of Orthoptera in India, including 285 short-horned and 135 pygmy grasshoppers.

•“These discoveries are interesting as grasshoppers have economic and ecological interest. They form an important link in the food chain and their predators include reptiles, amphibians, and birds and help directly in the protection of endangered species of birds, reptiles, amphibians and fishes,” Mr. Gupta said.

•He added that new lizard species have also been discovered in Chhattisgarh.

•Mr. Chandra said that since 2011, ZSI scientists have explored six districts and eight protected areas and have updated the faunal diversity of the State.

It’s a losing battle for privacy: SC

Hearing over, verdict likely this month
•The Supreme Court on Wednesday voiced apprehension over the possible misuse of personal data in public domain, saying the race to maintain privacy against the advent of technology was a losing battle.
•A nine-judge Bench led by Chief Justice of India J.S. Khehar wrapped up the marathon hearing of the reference on the question whether privacy was a fundamental right or not, and reserved its judgment.
•The verdict is expected to be pronounced before August 27, before the retirement of Chief Justice Khehar.
Formidable line-up
•A formidable line-up of senior lawyers and legal experts participated in the hearing and argued on the impact of a judicial declaration that privacy was a fundamental right.
•They included Attorney-General K.K. Venugopal, senior counsel Soli Sorabjee, Kapil Sibal, Gopal Subramanium, Shyam Divan, Arvind Dattar, Anand Grover, C.A. Sundaram, Rakesh Dwivedi, Additional Solicitor-General Tushar Mehta, Sajan Poovayya and lawyers Vipin Nair, Arghaya Sengupta and Gopal Sankaranarayanan.
•The Bench, which mooted the suggestion of framing “overarching” guidelines to protect private information in public domain, said there was a need to “maintain the core of privacy”.
•“We are fighting a losing battle of privacy. We do not know for what purpose the information will be used. This is exactly a cause of concern,” said the Bench, which included Justices J. Chelameswar, S.A. Bobde, R.K. Agrawal, R.F. Nariman, A.M. Sapre, D.Y. Chandrachud, S.K. Kaul and S. Abdul Nazeer.
Basic information
•Mr. Dwivedi, who argued on the last day of the hearing, submitted that providing basic personal information could not be covered under the right to privacy.
•However, the Bench highlighted the need to define privacy as India had become a “knowledge-based economy”, and had nearly 1.4 billion people whose personal information was in the public domain.

Border peace must for China ties: India

Says no cut in troops in Doklam
•India on Wednesday said peace and tranquillity on the border was the “prerequisite” for bilateral ties even as military sources denied any withdrawal of forces from Doklam. The official response from the External Affairs Ministry came after China, in a detailed 15-page official statement, reiterated Beijing’s claim on the Doklam region, and indicated India had scaled down its operation.
•“India’s position on this issue and related facts have been articulated in our press statement of June 30, 2017. India considers that peace and tranquillity in the India-China border areas is an important prerequisite for smooth development of our bilateral relations with China,” the Ministry said.
•Military sources said there had been no reduction in the presence of troops in the Doklam. At least 300 soldiers and 30 tents continued to remain in Doklam, the sources said.
•In its June 30 statement, India said its forces had intervened in Doklam in the “tradition of maintaining close consultation on matters of mutual interest” with Bhutan.
•Indian actions followed after the Foreign Ministry of Bhutan said laying a motorable road by China in Doklam was a violation by China.

India may have cut troops in Doklam, claims China

‘40 Indian soldiers still in our territory’
•The Chinese Foreign Ministry on Wednesday issued a 15-page statement, claiming that India has scaled down its forces in Doklam, but demanded that New Delhi pull back all its troops to end the military standoff in the area.
•“As of the end of July, there were still over 40 Indian border troops and one bulldozer illegally staying in the Chinese territory,” the Foreign Ministry said, pointing out that Indian troop presence in the Doklam, or Dong Lang, area near the India-China-Bhutan tri-junction had peaked to 400 personnel at one point.
‘We were building road’
•“On 16 June 2017, the Chinese side was building a road in the Dong Lang area. On 18 June, over 270 Indian border troops, carrying weapons and driving two bulldozers, crossed the boundary in the Sikkim Sector at the Duo Ka La (Doka La) pass and advanced more than 100 metres into the Chinese territory to obstruct the road-building, causing tension in the area,” the statement said.
•“In addition to the two bulldozers, the trespassing Indian border troops, reaching as many as over 400 people at one point, have put up three tents and advanced over 180 metres into the Chinese territory.”
•The Foreign Ministry said India had been informed in advance about China’s intent to start road construction in the area.
•“China did not cross the boundary in its road-building, and it notified India in advance in full reflection of China’s goodwill.”
•The Chinese side reiterated that India must unconditionally pull back its troops— a position Beijing has adopted since the beginning of the crisis. “The incident took place on the Chinese side of the delimited boundary. India should immediately and unconditionally withdraw its trespassing border troops back to the Indian side of the boundary. This is a prerequisite and basis for resolving the incident.”

RBI cuts repo rate by 25 bps to 6%, lowest in over 6 years

Urjit Patel says banks have scope to cut lending rates
•As some of the upside risks to inflation have not materialised, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) on Wednesday decided to cut the key policy rate or repo rate by 25 basis points (bps) to 6%, taking it to its lowest in six-and-a-half years.
•The action was in line with expectations, even as the RBI continued its neutral stance, saying future action would depend on incoming data.
•“Excluding the HRA [house rent allowance of the Seventh Pay Commission] impact, which will affect the CPI [consumer price inflation] cumulatively, headline inflation would be a little above 4% in Q4 as against 4.5% inclusive of the HRA,” RBI Governor Urjit Patel said at the post-policy media interaction.
•Mr. Patel expected banks to pass on the benefits to customers of those segments, which had not received the benefit of the rate-easing cycle.
•“I think there is scope for banks to reduce lending rates for those segments that have not yet benefited to the full extent of our policy rate cuts,” he said.
•Market participants said since RBI had indicated that inflation would rise from here, there was no scope for a further rate cut.
•The yield on the 10-year benchmark government bond rose 2 bps to 6.46% on Wednesday.
•“Given our expectation of both growth and inflation rising over the next six to 12 months, we expect a prolonged pause from the RBI,” Nomura said in a note to its clients.

? Illegal miners must pay back in full: Supreme Court

‘Cannot have their cake and eat it too, along with icing’
•Noting that “very powerful and vested interests or a failure of nerve” have thwarted the objective of the decade-old National Mineral Policy to prevent the theft of precious natural resources of the country, the Supreme Court on Wednesday directed that mining companies and leaseholders, who have engaged in mining activities without forest or environmental clearance, will have to pay the public exchequer compensation equivalent to 100% value of the minerals they extracted illegally.
•“The mining leaseholders cannot have their cake and eat it too, along with icing on the top,” a Bench of Justices Madan B. Lokur and Deepak Gupta observed in their judgment.
•The court gave the Centre a deadline of December 31, 2017, to announce a “fresh and more effective, meaningful and implementable policy.”
•“It is high time the Union revisits the National Mineral Policy,” the Supreme Court observed.
•The judgment was on the basis of a PIL plea filed by NGO Common Cause about the rampant illegal mining of iron and manganese ore in Odisha.
•Of a total of 187 mining lease holders in Keonjhar, Sundergarh and Mayurbhanj districts, 102 were found to have had no environmental or forest clearance. Yet these miners had illegally extracted minerals worth Rs. 17,577 crore over the years.
•The court observed that it must be the same or worse situation in other States.
•The court’s decision to lay down the law that miners should reimburse to the public the entire value of minerals they had extracted illegally comes despite the Supreme Court’s own Central Empowered Committee’s advice to reduce the compensation to 30% instead of a 100%.

WCO to unveil norms for e-commerce trade

Customs body aims to address digital divide, illegal trade
•The World Customs Organization (WCO) will soon bring out guidelines on ‘cross-border e-commerce’, which will focus on preventing illegal trade as well as addressing the challenges stemming from the ‘digital divide’, according to the WCO Secretary General Kunio Mikuriya.
•In an interview to The Hindu on his recent India trip, Mr. Mikuriya said, “We are developing guidelines on e-commerce to see how best Customs can facilitate legitimate trade through that route.” He added, “We [the WCO] will address issues related to digital divide by looking into what is blocking e-commerce trade, and what kind of enabling environment is needed to support developing countries so that they benefit more from e-commerce.”
•Terming e-commerce as a “game changer” in global trade that is benefiting small firms and consumers, he said the new guidelines would, however, include provisions to prevent illegal trade and illicit financial flows. This would be ensured through measures that would help strengthen information exchange between Customs administrations of countries as well as collaboration with other government agencies.
Working groups
•The WCO has a Working Group on e-Commerce and four sub-groups. To develop guidelines on cross-border e-commerce, the work packages identified are: ‘trade facilitation and simplification of procedures’, ‘safety and security’, ‘revenue collection’, and ‘measurement and analysis’. According to the UN body ‘UNCTAD’, the value of online trade jumped from $16 trillion to $22 trillion between 2013 and 2015.
•“The continuous increase in online trading has raised questions regarding regulation, consumer protection, revenue collection and national security,” according to the WCO’s ‘Study Report on Cross-Border E-Commerce’ (March 2017). “These questions cannot be dealt with individually, but require a common, broad approach by the international Customs community, together with all relevant stakeholders as a whole.”
•The WCO said more sophisticated equipment was needed to combat illicit trading through low-value shipments in the postal, express and cargo streams.
•“Pre-arrival information on the consignment and the consignee could be of great importance in detecting and intercepting illicit trade. In addition, the improvement of non-intrusive inspection equipment and an increase in the number of trained staff could help to enhance the detection rate of illicit goods,” it said.
•In an article on e-commerce, the WCO’s Director of Compliance and Facilitation Ana Hinojosa pointed out that in many countries, there were de minimisthresholds that allow low-value packages to enter a country with little or no duties or taxes, and with much more simplified procedures.
‘Clever manipulations’
•“This has led to clever manipulations by either the shipper or the consumer to avoid the extra charges by splitting invoices, undervaluing the invoices or mis-declaring the items altogether,” wrote Ms. Hinojosa. Another type of manipulation used was to classify the item as something else or claiming a different country of origin for the product, to take advantage of better duty or tax rates, the WCO official said, adding that these distortions had had an impact on many countries’ revenue collection volumes. Therefore, “some countries… are re-evaluating their established thresholds due to the significant implications that the changes brought about by these growing volumes of low-value small packages are having on their fiscal revenues,” observed Ms. Hinojosa.

Centre mulls ‘One Nation, One Licence’ in new telecom policy

Move may eliminate distinction between local, STD calls
•The Centre will consider including a ‘one-nation one-licence’ regime in the new telecom policy that is set to come out next year, Telecom Secretary Aruna Sundararajan said on Wednesday.
•The move, if implemented, is likely to remove the distinction between local and STD calls, as service providers will not need separate licences for operations in various parts of the country. A single licence would suffice.
Ease of doing business
•The Secretary, who met representatives from the industry, including operators, infrastructure providers, equipment makers and handset makers to discuss the new policy, assured them that the government was committed to bringing in changes that would enhance the ease of doing business. During the meeting, a representative from Bharti Airtel said it was time that bifurcations around the types of licences and geographical split (telecom circles and service areas) were done away with.
•“There will have to be a significant amount of rewriting and administrative reform in the Telecom Ministry so that we are able to actually move to some of the things like one nation (one network and one licence policy),” Ms. Sundararajan said.
•Creation of ‘one-nation one-licence’ policy across services and service areas, was also the one of the objectives of the National Telecom Policy 2012.
•“I am not saying that all this will be done overnight, but what I am saying is that we will endeavour to put it into the policy,” she added.
•“It will be our endeavour to see how we can secure for the industry a viable rate of return,” Ms. Sundararajan added.
•She added that the Department of Telecom would also come out with a White Paper that will spell out what the government wanted to achieve through the policy. The draft of the new policy is likely to be out by December, while the final policy is expected to be ready by March 2018.

Banks should reduce rates for existing borrowers too: RBI

Governor Patel sees scope for more cuts in interest on loans priced off base rate
•With commercial banks having a tendency to reduce interest rates only for prospective customers in order to push new business, Reserve Bank of India (RBI) Governor Urjit Patel said he expected lenders to pass on lower loan costs to borrowers who had not received the full benefit of the reductions in the policy rate.
•On Wednesday, the RBI cut the policy repo rate by 25 basis points (bps) to 6%. A percentage point comprises 100 bps.
•The banking regulator noted that banks mainly reduced rates for segments where competition was high as in the case of home loans and personal loans.
•“The way to look at the transmission is to determine what has been the case since we started the easing cycle,” Mr. Patel said. “On new lending, the transmission has been much stronger, specially in those segments where there is lot of competition – housing loans, personals loans where the NBFCs also play a big part.”
•The central bank has reduced the repo rate by 200 bps since January 2015.
•While banks cut the marginal cost of funds based lending rate (MCLR) sharply in January — by up to 90 bps — the reduction in the base rate, which was the earlier loan pricing regime, was much lower. Since MCLR has been operational only from April 2016, a large proportion of loans are still linked to the base rate and such borrowers have not benefited to the extent of the new borrowers.
•“The loan portfolio that is tied with on account of base rate and liabilities of longer nature the transmission has been slower,” Mr. Patel said. “Given the liquidity conditions prevailing and that we have reduced the policy rate by a substantial amount since the easing cycle started, I think there is scope for banks to reduce” rates for borrowers who have not yet gained the full benefit of the RBI’s policy rate cuts, he added.
•The difference between the base rate and MCLR, for some banks, is as high as 90-100 bps.
•The RBI said it will address Base Rate rigidity to improve transmission.

 A judgment for the ages

The Supreme Court must define the contours of the right to privacy in a way that doesn’t undo it
•The government has pushed the Supreme Court into a dangerous exercise: drawing the boundaries of the right to privacy. It has set the bar so low that almost any ruling by the Supreme Court will be celebrated if it pays lip service to the right to privacy. However, as history has shown us, badly drawn contours will permit the government to exploit our rights for decades. Public debate needs to rise above the government’s low bar and engage with the more nuanced questions.
•This piece begins with addressing the argument that the right to privacy is an alien western idea, and explains why the right to privacy is necessary in India. It then addresses the government’s suggestion that the right to privacy can be replaced by a data protection act, by detailing how a data protection statute is much weaker than the fundamental right to privacy. It then addresses the third popular and fallacious question of why we need a right against our own government when we are happy to share our private data with foreign Web-based platforms.
India and the right to privacy
•After dispensing with the questions that are distracting citizens from the real issue in this case, this piece discusses the contours of the right to privacy. It argues that they must be reinforced on a case-by-case basis in this unpredictable information age. Anything less will render the increasingly critical human right to privacy meaningless.
•It is easy in a crowded country, where the feudal family structure prevails, to argue that we do not believe in privacy. This is not true. Indian cultural norms have their unique ways of protecting privacy. Additionally, when we became a democracy, we adopted certain constitutional safeguards. These safeguards include many rights derided as alien western imports — the rights to speech, equality, liberty and privacy. To shrug them off would be to shrug off democracy.
•We are not the only nation to struggle with what seems like an unfamiliar human right to privacy. Although elements of privacy, such as restrictions on the searching of homes, were in national constitutions, the right to privacy as a whole was not articulated in them. This articulation of right was recognised as an international human right in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights before it found its way to the national level. If the phrase is new to us, it is new to everyone. Democracies have adopted it because it is essential to preserving the balance of power between governments and citizens, as governments access information technology and big data.
•The government has offered to enact a data protection act in lieu of the right to privacy. This has unleashed the dangerous idea that a data protection statute is a substitute for a fundamental right to privacy.
Why it’s a fundamental right
•A data protection statute is flimsy in comparison to a fundamental right to privacy. It can be repealed or amended, and other laws can be written to prevail over it. The government can exempt itself so that we have rights against private companies but not against the government. In contrast, the fundamental right to privacy cannot be taken away or undermined by the government: every law and every action threatening that right can be challenged before the judiciary. If we have a strong fundamental right, the government will never be able to give itself the power to go through our emails, search engine history, cupboards, pockets or texts without having to justify its intrusions and searches to the judiciary.
•We have never needed a fundamental right to privacy more. The government is monitoring citizens closely, interlinking databases from transport and bank accounts to school enrolment and mobile phone connections. Recent news suggests that it will be adding data from our social media accounts to this. The consequences are terrifying. Interlinked databases can lead to comprehensive discrimination such that HIV-positive people, people with mental illness, terminal illnesses, divorces or marginalised community backgrounds are denied jobs, homes and medical care. At its worst, unrestricted monitoring of citizens can lead to identification and suppression of dissent in a manner reminiscent of Stasi Germany. With no independent information and no dissent, there is no democracy.
•The argument that government access to our personal information is justified because Facebook has it anyway is fallacious. Neither entity should have unrestricted access to this information. Governments are currently far more powerful than Facebook, with their control of the police, the army and other instruments of force, which is why human rights protect us from government power. However as online platforms amass power and influence, they pose a potential threat to human rights. Work is being done on ways to hold them also accountable.
Contours of privacy
•The potential contours of the right to privacy are really the critical question in the case before the Supreme Court. The court must guard against upholding the right but defining its contours in a way that undoes it. This was the court’s big mistake in its phone-tapping judgment, where it created such an ineffective oversight mechanism that it might as well have permitted the government to tap phones at will.
•There is no need to create new limits for the right to privacy if the Supreme Court rules that it may be read into the rights to life, liberty and speech as it has in the past, or read into any other fundamental right in the future. The judiciary can then continue applying the existing grounds of restriction from the Constitution.
•If the Supreme Court is to rule in a truly meaningful way this time, it will need to define the right to privacy in a manner that makes it difficult to undermine. It can outline the core of this right with examples, to ensure that privacy jurisprudence moves forward, not backwards. It can articulate clearly what cannot be excluded from the purview of the right to privacy, such as surveillance of communication, access to personal data, publication of personal information and the interlinking of databases of personal information.
•But most importantly, the court can acknowledge that it is impossible for judges in 2017 to comprehend the future threats to the right to privacy that technology will invent; it can give future Supreme Court judges the power to use its privacy principles to adjudicate these cases.
•Future judges will be confronted with the Internet of Things, big data, bio-hacking, algorithms and potentially even artificial intelligence, and a country in which a citizen is monitored down to her heartbeat. Technology is already able to predict our moods, political leanings, retail preferences, relationships and medical condition with eerie efficiency. This will only escalate. If we, the citizens of India, want to hold on to our power and agency, we will need the right to privacy to guard against this invasiveness.

How to curb ‘invisible money’

Reforms suggested by the Election and Law Commissions must be given a chance
•The statement by Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley recently that the Election Commission has failed to curb ‘invisible money’ in polls is remarkable. It is unusual for a senior Minister to make adverse remarks against a constitutional body in public. However, there are factual problems with his statement.
•The Election Commission (EC) works in accordance with Article 324 of the Constitution of India, the Representation of the People Act (RP Act), 1951 and the rules framed by the government thereunder, and various judgments of the Supreme Court and High Courts. The power to frame rules under the RP Act has not been given to the EC by successive governments, which includes the current one.
Action and reaction
•Most of the reform proposals by the EC have not been acted upon. It sent 22 proposals in 2004. In December 2016, it sent 47 proposals including those for “Election expenses and election petitions”, “Election campaign and advertisements”, and “Reforms relating to political parties”. The government’s actions, if any, are not available in the public domain.
•There are instances where the EC has recommended the same reform repeatedly only to have it rejected. There are also instances where the Supreme Court has directed reforms in its decisions, with the government and Parliament attempting to amend laws to prevent implementation of the judgments.
•Now to the electoral bonds the Finance Minister was referring to. To what extent these bonds will make ‘invisible money’ visible was explained by him after he presented the Budget. In the media interaction, he said: “These bonds will be bearer in character to keep the donor anonymous.” Since the reference to electoral bonds in the Budget speech was under the heading “Transparency in Electoral Funding”, it led some commentators to ask whether ‘transparency’ and ‘anonymity’ are the same. Given his statement on the EC, it appears as if ‘anonymity’ is expected to increase ‘visibility’.
•The other significant proposals that the Budget made were (a) to remove the limit of 7.5% on profits that a company can donate to a political party, and (b) to remove the requirement that the company making a donation to a political party disclose the name of the party and the amount donated. Whether these two proposals will reduce ‘invisibility’ or increase it is best left to a readers’ judgment.
•The Minister also said, “I asked political parties, both orally in Parliament and in writing, to offer a better suggestion to me… not one has come forward to date because people are quite satisfied in the existing system.”
•It should be obvious that political parties will have no objection to the electoral bonds system as it allows them to raise money with ‘anonymity’. But it is interesting that the Minister should ask this question to parties which stand to lose ‘invisible money’ if it is eliminated. So who else can or should the Minister ask? Logically, it is the Election Commission and the Law Commission of India which have both applied their minds to the issue repeatedly.
•It must be noted that the outgoing Chief Election Commissioner had expressed misgivings about electoral bonds.
•The Law Commission studied the issue in 1998-99 and presented its comprehensive assessment and proposals in its 170th report, titled ‘Reform of the Electoral Laws’. This paragraph captures the essence of its recommendations: “On the parity of the above reasoning, it must be said that if democracy and accountability constitute the core of our constitutional system, the same concepts must also apply to and bind the political parties which are integral to parliamentary democracy. It is the political parties that form the government, man the Parliament and run the governance of the country. It is therefore, necessary to introduce internal democracy, financial transparency and accountability in the working of the political parties.”
•If that is considered outdated, the Law Commission issued another report in March 2015 (its 255th) wherein it devoted 64 pages to “Election finance reform”. This also contains valuable recommendations to reform the election finance system, but then there has to be a willingness to do so. The willingness seems to be to ensure anonymity. There are also other indicators of the will of the government.
The RTI way
•A logical and simple way of introducing “financial transparency and accountability in the working of the political parties”, and recommended by the Law Commission, is to bring them under the Right to Information (RTI) Act, 2005. The Central Information Commission (CIC) had said in a full bench decision in June 2013 that six national political parties were indeed ‘public authorities’ under the RTI Act as they fulfilled all conditions specified in Section 2(h) of the RTI Act which defines ‘public authority’.
•Despite the June 2013 decision, these parties, including the ruling party now, refused to accept RTI applications, blatantly defying the unanimous decision of a full bench of the highest statutory authority to implement a law passed unanimously by Parliament. They did not even deign to respond to notices by the CIC, of non-compliance. Another full bench of the CIC expressed its inability to get its own “legally correct” decision implemented. It also referred to it as “an unusual case of wilful non-compliance”.
•When a petition was filed in the Supreme Court to get the decision of the CIC implemented, the government said in a sworn affidavit submitted to the Supreme Court that political parties should not be under the purview of the RTI Act. The petition is still pending in the Supreme Court.
•The stand of the government in the Supreme Court is further evidence of what the government is not willing to do.

Space for a cut

The RBI reduces the policy rate whileflagging multiple concerns on the economy
•By cutting the policy repo rate by 25 basis points, the Reserve Bank of India has opted to play safe while nominally acceding to the clamour for softer lending rates. The Monetary Policy Committee’s majority decision (one member voted to keep rates unchanged, while another wanted a deeper cut) hinged on its observation that some “upside risks to inflation have either reduced or not materialised”, opening up “some space” for accommodation. Specifically, the bimonthly policy statement refers to the significant slowdown over the past three months in core inflation — retail price gains excluding those for food and fuel. It notes that the monsoon has so far been normal, and the initial roll-out of GST has been “smooth”. Yet, the six-member panel has chosen to retain the “neutral” stance, given that it expects the trajectory of inflation to rise from current lows amid a welter of uncertainties. The factors deterring a more abidingly benign view for the path that prices are likely to traverse bear repeating, given the inflation-targeting remit handed to the MPC: the RBI’s statement does just that. A conclusive separation of “transitory and structural factors” impacting price gains remains elusive. Prices of inflation-sensitive tomatoes and onions are spiking. Pressures may be building that could spur higher animal protein costs for consumers. The implementation of farm loan waivers by States and the “tail risk” that the fiscally expansive measures could pose to long-term price stability that RBI Deputy Governor Viral Acharya referred to in June, continue to be germane. And there is no clarity on whether and when State governments will implement salary and allowance increases following the Centre’s implementation of the seventh pay panel-related hikes.
•The MPC acknowledges there are moderating forces at work — a second successive normal monsoon that could check food costs and a stable international commodity price outlook — that could help keep the inflation trajectory favourable. On economic activity, the RBI has flagged multiple concerns. A poll of business sentiment in the manufacturing sector shows respondents expect a moderation in July-September from the preceding quarter. Also, the high levels of stress that continue to be reflected in the balance sheets of both lenders and corporate borrowers presage the unlikelihood of any uptick in new investment. With the underlying impulses for growth in industry and services weakening, the onus is now on the Centre and the States to take enabling steps, through policy measures and directed fiscal actions, to give a thrust for the revival of private investment. Surely, as Dr. Acharya cautioned in June, it will serve nobody’s interests if the rate reduction doesn’t have “the desired amplifier effects on the economy” and ends up only temporarily masking the true problems in the banking and real sectors.

The Hindu Notes 02nd Aug.,2017

Rising temperatures drive up farmer suicides in India: U.S. study

Researchers say that a warmer climate reduces crop yields, aggravates distress
•Climate change may have led to over 59,000 farmer suicides over the last 30 years in India, argues a research report from the University of California, Berkeley in US.
•Even a 1°C increase in temperature above 20° C in a single day during the crop growing season results in about 70 suicides on average.
•The increase in temperature during the cropping season reduces crop yields, resulting in increased suicides, according to a study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences .
•The study was carried out using data for all States and Union Territories.
•It has several limitations, though, including the fact that it has not looked at other factors that could have contributed to suicides.
•Endorsing the temperature-crop yield link, agricultural scientist Prof. M.S. Swaminathan said, “The effect of increased temperature on crop yield is real. In the late 1980s we found that when the temperature increases by 1 – 1.5° C the duration of the crop reduces by one month. Since the duration reduces, the yield drops by 300-400 kg.”
•Tamma A. Carleton from the University of California, Berkeley and the author of the paper, tested the link between climate change, crop yields and suicide by comparing the number of suicides across India between 1967 and 2013 with crop yield and climate data. Data on suicides were collected from the National Crime Records Bureau.
An additional burden
•She found crop losses due to heat damage cause additional burden on farming households and this at times leads to suicides.
•Dr. Carleton found suicides reported when a single day’s temperature increased by 1°C only during the crop growing season. Similar increase in temperature during other seasons did not result in a rise in suicides.
•Crop yield data from 13 States from 1956 to 2000 were compared with climate change data. Dr. Carleton found annual yield falling when the temperature was above 20°C during the crop-growing season.
•An increase in rainfall by 1 cm during the growing season leads to a decrease of about 0.8 deaths per 100,000, thus lowering the suicide rate by 7% on average, she writes.
•The effect of climate variation reveals that past growing season temperature strongly influences suicide rates in the following years up to about five years.
•For instance, when there is abundant rainfall during one growing season, the suicide rates dip for the next two or three years. Drought apparently does not seem to have any effect on suicide rates, the researcher found.
•The study says South India, which is generally hotter, has higher farmer suicide rates.
•Comparing the yields to growing season temperature for 13 States, the author found that States where the yields are more affected by high temperatures are also the States which report higher suicide rates. Maharashtra, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, and Andhra Pradesh not only show severe suicide responses to temperature but crop yield is also more negatively affected by higher temperature.
•The study did not find any adaptive behaviour to prevent suicides in response to climate change.
Weak studies in India
•“We must undertake anticipatory research using genetic checkmating for potential changes in climate such as changes in precipitation, and temperature. I don’t think we have done such research as seriously as we should have,” says Prof. Swaminathan. “Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia are the most vulnerable regions and we would be the most affected.”
•India’s average temperature is expected to increase by 3°C by 2050.

Panel to draft data protection Bill, SC told

‘Privacy argument will hit governance’
•Highlighting the need for a comprehensive law on data protection, the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) informed a nine-judge Bench of the Supreme Court on Tuesday that the Centre has constituted a committee of experts, led by former Supreme Court judge, Justice B.N. Srikrishna, to identify “key data protection issues” and suggest a draft data protection Bill.
•Appearing before the Bench led by Chief Justice of India J.S. Khehar hearing the question whether privacy is a fundamental right, UIDAI, the nodal agency for implementation of Aadhaar, said privacy is not a fundamental right; privacy is subjective and dependent on human behaviour. Any attempt by the court to robe it in the status of a fundamental right would damage the nation and stymie the government’s efforts for good governance.
•Instead, Additional Solicitor General Tushar Mehta pointed out that the government’s focus is now on framing overarching principles for data protection. He said the Justice Srikrishna Committee was constituted on July 31, 2017. “The government is cognisant of the growing importance of data protection in India. The ,” Mr. Mehta read out from the Office Memorandum appointing the Justice Srikrishna panel.

Somalia signs pact on convicts

Boost for joint anti-piracy operation
•Opening a new front for collaboration in anti-piracy operation in Eastern Africa, India and Somalia on Tuesday signed an agreement for transfer of sentenced convicts. A statement from the Ministry of External Affairs said the agreement was the highlight of the ongoing visit of the Foreign Minister of Somalia.
Transfer of prisoners
•“During the visit, the Somalian Minister held meetings with External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and Minister of State for External Affairs M.J. Akbar. The entire gamut of India-Somalia bilateral relations, including the issue of piracy and maritime security, were discussed between the two sides during the meetings. Further, discussions on regional issues pertaining to developments in the Gulf region and India’s neighbourhood were held. An agreement for transfer of sentenced persons between India and Somalia was also signed during the visit,” said the statement from the MEA after Ms. Swaraj sealed the document with her Somalian counterpart Yusuf-Garaad Omar.
•The collaboration between two sides will be significant due to the incidents of piracy that have affected Indian interests in the Indian Ocean region near the Horn of Africa. India has in recent years extended development assistance to Somalia which has included mini buses to the war-battered country.
•Diplomatic contacts between India and Somalia have been infrequent, however, Somalia had participated in the 2015 India-Africa Forum Summit.

With rates low, it is easier to buy than rent homes

Housing loan interest rates dipping in past few months
•Lower interest rates and stagnant property prices, in combination with the interest subsidy under the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (PMAY), have markedly improved the economics for home buyers, bankers said.
•With interest rates falling about 200 basis points (one basis point is equal to 1/100th of 1%) in the last 15 months, EMIs (equated monthly instalments) for small and medium ticket home loans in some cases have fallen below the rent paid for the same property.
•According to bankers, for a home loan of Rs. 25 lakh, when the current interest rate of 8.5-9% is coupled with the subsidy benefit under the PMAY, the real interest rate for a home buyer with an income of Rs. 12 to Rs. 18 lakh per annum works out to just 4%, after adjusting for tax benefits. The subsidy amount would be higher if the income is lower.
Economics changed
•“Housing loan interest rates have been going down the past few months. While the trend may not continue at the same pace, the reduction in interest rates, in combination with the credit-linked subsidy scheme, has certainly changed the economics guiding the home buying versus renting argument,” Rajiv Anand, executive director, Axis Bank said. The PMAY scheme is available for first time home buyers with family income up to Rs. 18 lakh and for property size up to 110 square metres (1,100 sq. ft. carpet area). “For buyers whose household income is not more than Rs6 lakhs per annum and who are therefore eligible for the 6.5% interest rate subsidy under the PMAY, this is clearly the right time to consider buying a property by availing of a small ticket housing loan,” Mr Anand added.
•Keki Mistry, vice chairman, Housing Development and Finance Corporation (HDFC), the country’s largest mortgage financier, said that both interest rates and property prices are favourable for buyers. “Interest rates are not the only aspect. Property prices have not gone up in the last 2-3 years. This is the best time to buy a property,” Mr Mistry told The Hindu. “Don’t look at interest rate in isolation. There is a government subvention scheme that you get today. Consider the interest net of tax benefits.”

Manufacturing PMI at 47.9, records steepest contraction since Feb. ’09

New orders, output decreased, reversing June’s expansion
•Manufacturing activity in July slowed to 47.9, the lowest level since February 2009, according to the Nikkei Manufacturing Purchasing Managers’ Index, due almost entirely to the introduction of the Goods and Services Tax on July 1.
•The reading was significantly lower than the 59.9 seen in June. A score above 50 implies an expansion of activity while one below 50 denotes a contraction.
‘GST weighs heavily’
•“PMI survey data indicated that the introduction of the goods & services tax (GST) weighed heavily on the Indian manufacturing industry in July,” the report said. “New orders and output decreased for the first time since the demonetisation-related downturn recorded in December last year, with rates of contraction the steepest since February 2009 in both cases.”
•“According to Indian manufacturers, higher tax rates sparked greater cost burdens in July,” the report added. “However, the pace at which input costs rose was moderate and much weaker than its long-run average.”
•The report also said that the 12-month outlook for output remained positive in July due to companies’ expectation that greater clarity on GST would bolster growth. “The downturn was broad-based across all sub-sectors covered by the survey, with output scaled back among firms in the consumer, intermediate and investment goods categories amid falling order books,” Pollyanna De Lima, principal economist, IHS Markit and the report’s author, said.

Breaking addiction

Lower nicotine content in cigarettesis an idea whose time has come
•The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has struck panic among tobacco companies by announcing a comprehensive proposal to reduce the amount of nicotine in cigarettes to non-addictive levels. This is aimed at striking at the root of the problem of smokers getting addicted, and being unable to quit the habit. While the proposal is at an early stage and it may take a while before it gets implemented, if at all, it outlines a powerful strategy. Nicotine does not directly cause cancers and other diseases that kill people, but is extremely addictive. By keeping smokers addicted for the long term, nicotine exposes them to nearly 7,000 chemicals, many of them deadly, every time they smoke. Reducing nicotine in cigarettes to non-addictive levels would therefore have multiple benefits — reduce the likelihood of new users (those in the 15-24 age group) getting hooked to cigarettes, increase the chances of habitual smokers being able to quit, and cut smoking-related disease and death burden overall. In the U.S. alone, nearly half a million smoking-related deaths are reported each year. While more studies are required to establish clear causality, a paper published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2015 showed smokers using reduced-nicotine cigarettes lit up fewer cigarettes a day compared with those smoking standard cigarettes.
•The FDA, however, has no plans to regulate nicotine content in electronic cigarettes and other nicotine-replacement products, which are seen to be alternatives to help smokers quit the habit. A study published a few days ago in the journal BMJ found that a “substantial increase” in e-cigarette use among adult smokers had led to a “significant increase” in the quitting rate among smokers. By making it illegal a year ago to sell e-cigarettes to children, the FDA has effectively addressed the growing concern about children taking to vaping. Yet, the U.S. has much to learn from India on tobacco control measures. While India is yet to prohibit the sale of e-cigarettes to minors, it has followed most of the measures mentioned in the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control guidelines. Unlike the U.S., India banned tobacco advertisements long ago, introduced pictorial warnings (covering 85% of the front and back of packages of tobacco products), and prohibited the use of descriptors such as light, mild and low as well as the sale of flavoured cigarettes. Threatened by the dwindling number of young smokers, there is the possibility that tobacco companies will target developing countries such as India with renewed vigour. While they may pull out all the stops to subvert or dilute tobacco control measures, the government should remain resolute in not losing the gains made in the last few years — the number of tobacco users reduced by more than eight million between 2010 and 2016.

Barriers to well-being

The extent of society’s responsibility for child health care needs clarity
•The recent controversy around the health care of Charlie Gard, a terminally-ill 11-month-old baby in the United Kingdom who was finally taken off life support and passed away on July 28, got huge media coverage, polarised public debate and unleashed tense legal battles around complex ethical issues related to the health care of a baby. The infant was born with a serious mitochondrial disorder that led to the wasting of his muscles and brain. There is no definitive treatment and the baby was on life support since last October.
Protecting a child’s interests
•His parents wanted to take Charlie to the United States where an experimental therapy of nucleosides would have been attempted, with an estimated 10% chance of benefit. Doctors at Great Ormond Street Hospital in London said that his clinical condition ruled out any benefit and felt it unethical to subject the baby to the turmoil of a “futile” journey. As serial scans showed severe brain damage, they held out no hope of survival and felt that the boy should be allowed to die with dignity. The parents wanted to try out the experimental therapy and repeatedly took the hospital to court. They failed to convince British courts and the European Court of Human Rights which deferred to the hospital’s assessment. The U.S. Congress intervened to grant extraordinary citizenship to Charlie so that he could travel for treatment but the British court did not permit his release from the hospital. Last week, the parents finally gave up after the American expert said that the latest scan ruled out any possible benefit at this stage.
•The ethical and legal tangles involve questions of what is in the best interest of the baby. Here, the court decided on behalf of the baby after hearing all the parties in an emotionally drenched contest. As expected, public opinion mostly supported the parents while the legal verdict upheld the medical recommendation not to prolong or aggravate the baby’s suffering. The key message that emerged is that society has the final responsibility to protect the child’s interests, however determined.
The monetary angle
•Still, there is a strange deviation from this rule when it comes to paying for the treatment of a child with serious conditions such as heart disease or treatable leukaemia. In countries with high levels of treatment coverage under a system of universal health coverage (UHC), this cost is covered in part or full. In many countries it is not, especially when the cost of the procedure is high. The child gets treated only if the parents can afford it or risk bankruptcy to save their child. Is this fair?
•In countries where social services are very sensitive to child rights, the child is taken away from the parents if the child is abused or even neglected. The responsibility of a civilised society to protect the child is thereby affirmed. How is it then that the neglect of a child’s medical problem is not seen as a failure not just on the part of parental care but of the obligation of society too to protect the vulnerable child?
•Economists will say that UHC cannot cover all treatments for everybody because resources are finite. They are right. However, how does this stance reconcile with society’s duty to protect the child? Even if complex diseases with limited benefit from treatment are excluded, should not UHC cover conditions that seriously affect the health and the well-being of the child but have treatments available that add many years of functional life? What about funding for improving the functionality of children with disabilities?
•While allocating resources in the health sector, economists also prioritise public good over private good. Immunisation programmes, for example, protect persons from infectious diseases which can spread across a population and are, therefore, regarded as a public good. Personal health care is regarded as a private good. In case of children, where society assumes a caring custodial responsibility, how does this distinction hold?
•In the Indian context, costly treatments that can provide high returns of longevity and functionality for children are obtained through sporadic philanthropy or limited coverage social insurance schemes funded by the government. These do not remove the barriers of access and affordability. It is time health professionals, policy makers, economists, ethicists, legal experts, parent representatives and community leaders are brought together to decide by consensus on the dimensions and delivery pathways of societal responsibility for child health care.

‘India and Bhutan are questioning the new normal’

A former Ambassador to China says only reciprocal withdrawal by India and China can ease the Doklam stand-off.
• Ashok Kantha served as India’s Ambassador to China from 2013 to 2015. Earlier he was part of the negotiation team that ended the decade-long stand-off in Sumdorong Chu, which began in 1986. He is currently director of the Institute of Chinese Studies in Delhi. In an interview to The Hindu, Mr. Kantha spoke about the Doklam stand-off. Excerpts:
Does the Doklam stand-off indicate the dominance of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA)over the Politburo of the Communist Party of China?
• I don’t think that is the case. I don’t see what’s happening in Doklam being a case of the party versus the PLA. The Chinese system of domestic politics is very opaque. It’s very difficult for us to say with certainty how certain things are decided. However, what we can fathom is that the party has asserted its control over the PLA. Under Hu Jintao, the military had become powerful, but Xi Jinping is in control of the PLA and has taken action against several dozen senior PLA personnel under the anti-corruption campaign. Secondly, restructuring and reform of Chinese military establishment has led to the party reasserting its control over the PLA. The present trend is towards greater control of the party over the PLA.
• China’s behaviour in Doklam is part of a larger pattern wherein China is pursuing contested territorial claims, most importantly in the South China Sea. Reports from China suggest that the Chinese policy on the South China Sea is personally driven by Xi Jinping. China is asserting its territorial claim by the so-called Nine-Dash Line. They have gone ahead with setting up civil and military facilities and built artificial islands in the South China Sea. What is happening in Doklam is part of that trend. In the case of Doklam, just like in the case of the South China Sea, China says that its claim in Doklam is indisputable and that is why it has gone ahead with building activities in the region.
Does that mean there will be ‘20 and half front’ territorial disputes around China?
• China has, in fact, settled most of the land boundary issues with most neighbouring countries. It has outstanding issues with India and Bhutan. It has serious issues in the South China Sea and East China Sea. On the remaining territorial issues, it is adopting an assertive posture in which it is changing facts on the ground. In the South China Sea, other claimants are adjusting to the new normal. Others are unable to do anything meaningful to change the ‘new normal’ that is emerging. China reclaimed 3,200 acres of artificial islands in the South China Sea. Other claimants and the U.S. do not have any effective strategy to counter this. India and Bhutan did not follow the script. We are questioning this new normal. Bhutan on June 29 questioned the construction of the mountain road in Doklam region and asked Beijing to restore the status quo as before June 16, 2017. We also came out with a clear statement on June 30.
Was China surprised by India’s action?
• We can only speculate, as it is very difficult to understand how China decides. China did not anticipate that both Bhutan and India would come out strongly. What China was doing earlier can be described as ‘creeping intrusion’. But [with] construction of a motorable road, a new set of facts were being built in Doklam. This would have had a negative impact on India’s security atmosphere. Doklam is south of the tri-junction, which is near Batang La. According to Indian and Bhutanese maps, Doklam is Bhutanese territory.
What are the chances of escalation under the present circumstances?
• If you compare the present scenario with what happened in 2013-2014 — that is the Depsang, Demchok and Chumar cases — we managed to sort out the issue in four weeks time. In the case of Doklam, pronouncements are belligerent from Chinese officials and the official media — almost warlike. This is one difference: that the rhetoric emanating from China is very heated, and that apart, China has placed a precondition for withdrawal for any meaningful talks. Also, this is getting protracted and no one knows how long it can go on.
How long can this stand-off go on?
•It can go on for years. In 1986, Chinese troops set up a post in the Sumdorong Chu valley, south of Thag La ridge. Then there was action taken by both sides and sharp escalation followed. There was action taken by both sides and sharp escalation followed. That was the last time that the India-China border became ‘live’. This situation of heightened tension continued till 1987. In August 1995 finally disengagement took place. De-escalation in tension took place by the end of 1987.At that time also China was very vituperative. They had given a precondition for pull-back by India.
The biggest difference now is the introduction of Bhutan.
•Yes, the introduction of Bhutan is the difference. But both sides have maintained sobriety on the ground, though the language coming from the Chinese side is rather strong. In contrast, India has maintained a measured posture.
But has India intruded into Chinese territory?
•Look at the facts. Bhutan maintains that Doklam is Bhutanese territory, which they said in the June 29 statement which was echoed in the Indian statement. But China claims the territory. However, China is committed through the bilateral agreements of 1988 and 1998 with Bhutan to respect the status quo and not to change the status quo unilaterally. Its actions are in direct violation of agreements with Bhutan and India.
•But China is changing the tri-junction unilaterally in violation of such agreements. In mountainous areas, defences are along ridge lines. The Chinese are trying to bring down the tri-junction point to Geymochen, which is the last major ridge line between the Siliguri corridor and the Chumbi Valley, which would have hit security.
But how long will Bhutan stay with India in this stand-off?
•There have been 24 rounds of border negotiations between Bhutan and China. As far as the Bhutanese position [goes], the Doklam area belongs to Bhutan. On June 29 also, Bhutan requested China to restore the status quo as of June 16, 2017, and Bhutan has not weakened its position. Please remember, any change in the status quo will hurt Bhutan first as it will lose a very strategic territory and it will lose access to India through the Siliguri corridor. For Bhutan too there are vital strategic interests involved in any compromise.
Is China erring by taking on Bhutan?
•China is changing the status quo unilaterally with a relatively small neighbour, Bhutan. It is a clear case of browbeating both Bhutan and India. Through this action, China was trying to drive a wedge between Bhutan and India. But China perhaps thought that Bhutan would not protest. But Bhutan came out with a public protest like India. China has also landed in a situation that it did not anticipate.
What is the solution? Mutual withdrawal?
•The provocation for India was that the Chinese construction party was building a road unilaterally. If China pulls back from the area, listening to the very sensible suggestion from Bhutan, there would be no need for India to have military personnel. For India, any unilateral withdrawal will be impossible as there will be serious consequences. There can only be reciprocal withdrawal.
So differences remain in Indian and Chinese positions.
•The response of the Indian government has been measured and effective so far. We have clearly eschewed temptations to respond through tit for tat polemics. We have not risen to China’s bait. We need to question the narrative emanating from China. The narrative is that the boundary of the Sikkim sector is all settled and demarcated. That is not the case as the alignment of the boundary in the Sikkim sector is basically agreed on but there are well-known differences as far as the tri-junction points of India, China and Bhutan are concerned.
•There are also differences on interpretations of the watershed boundary in northern and eastern Sikkim. In fact, post-1962, the most serious armed skirmish was at Nathu La in eastern Sikkim in 1967 because of differences in the interpretation of the watershed boundary.
Has India violated international law through the Doklam venture?
•It is China that has violated agreements with Bhutan and India. Bhutan pointed out that China violated the 1988 and 1998 agreements. China is also violating agreements with India.
Can China hit India in some other area of the border?
•The present situation is under control as no major troop mobilisation has taken place. The border has not become ‘live’ so far, like 1987. But we cannot preclude the possibility of China probing our defences in the Indian border. But hopefully that will not happen because any expansion of the differences will lead to damaging peace and tranquillity in the border areas. One needs to ensure that differences do not expand and are contained. At the same time, we need to take preventive measures. Second, the move towards de-escalation. For that China needs to scale down its comments.
Have the NSA-level talks helped?
•The Chinese rhetoric has slowed down a bit, but it’s too early to come to a conclusion. I would not interpret Xi Jinping’s speech on the occassion of the 90th anniversary of the Chinese PLA as something in the context of what’s going on in Doklam.
Can India and Bhutan try the International Court of Justice as an option?
•That is not quite the policy of India and China as we are very clear that our bilateral boundary disputes will be dealt with through bilateral consultations. That is the track we adopt for India-China border differences. Likewise, no indication has come from Bhutan that it will approach the international court. You know the PCA (Permanent Court of Arbitration) gave a verdict on the South China Sea but China completely rubbished the PCA award and went ahead with activities for military and civil facilities.
Should appeasement be the policy to deal with China’s territorial claims?
•When it comes to the India-China border, we have to rely on ourselves. We need to persist with the present approach that the border areas remain peaceful and we need to ensure that there is requisite deterrence available on the ground to discourage China.
•Deterrence has to be in terms of military capability and infrastructure on the ground. Our posture should be defensive and sometimes a mix of offensive and defensive capabilities.
In this context, can the BRICS summit be successful?
•I do not want to prejudge. Even if the Doklam stand-off continues, we can still have a fairly successful BRICS summit in China. In this context, we can compare with the 1987 situation when the border went ‘live’. However, that is not the case today. Tension had gone up in 1987 and we prepared Rajiv Gandhi’s visit to China in 1988, which was a turning point in India-China ties. But the situation continued till 1995. The Doklam issue can continue minus the tension and noise, and we can approach the difference in a businesslike manner. Though ideally we should terminate the military stand-off as early as possible. Frankly, talks are taking place between India and China, India and Bhutan, and between Bhutan and China. There is no communication breakdown.
What does the Doklam issue indicate for bilateral ties between China and India?
•The narrative of the relationship has been affected, but there is something more structural that is going on. China is becoming increasingly assertive in pursuit of its global and regional goals. The Belt and Road project is one such example, which is above all a major geopolitical project. It is aimed at China trying to put together a continental and maritime domain where China is the lead player. This is apart from the fact that the project affects Indian sovereignty as it passes through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. But the rise of China is also taking place simultaneously with the rise of India. China wants to be the pre-eminent power. But India would like to see a multipolar world. That is the contradiction. Our preference is for a bipolar Asia. India-China ties also have positive aspect and there will be an uncertain mix of cooperation and competition and how we manage the relationship will be a big challenge. It is possible but will be a challenging position.

For a nuclear-free world

The new treaty has a sound basis. But its effectiveness could be jeopardised by the nine countries resisting it
•The adoption of the historic United Nations pact to ban nuclear weapons underscores a paradigm shift in the discourse on global disarmament. Foremost, the universal goal of total elimination of these weapons of mass destruction has been disentangled from the narrow focus on the maintenance of a deterrent by the nuclear weapons states against threats from one another. Instead, the case for abolition, under the treaty finalised in July, is premised on the potential danger to the very survival of civilisation from another holocaust. Such a position seems incontestable, as modern weapons are designed to inflict a great scale of destruction, without regard to national or geographic boundaries. The imperative, as the architects of the new treaty see it, is an immediate legal prohibition leading to the total elimination of nuclear weapons, given the impossibility of fashioning a humanitarian response to any future offensive. The new treaty, which 122 nations have approved, outlaws the entire range of activity relating to the production, stockpiling and use of nuclear weapons. The ban on the conduct of underground explosions envisaged under Article 1 is a breakthrough. The 1996 Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty has not entered into force because many among the 44 designated nuclear-capable states, whose ratification is mandatory under the pact, have not come on board.
•Last year, the Marshall Islands suffered a legal setback to secure compensation for the victims of radiation exposure during the U.S. nuclear tests conducted in the 1950s. But the litigation at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) has underpinned the need to codify a strong provision on the protection of victims. Assistance for people exposed to extreme radiation and contamination of the environment has been spelt out explicitly under Article 6 of the current treaty. The most central provision is Article 1(d) which categorically prohibits the use of nuclear weapons, or a threat to that effect, under all circumstances. The ICJ’s 1996 advisory opinion was that the use of these deadly arms, or even a threat, was generally illegal. It was, however, indecisive on the question of their legitimacy in the exceptional case of a state’s very survival. Support for the new treaty has steadily grown over the years to cover nearly two-thirds of the UN member states which adopted it last month. It is hence not unreasonable to anticipate that the required 50 instruments of ratification for its entry into force would be submitted swiftly. Moreover, the nuclear weapons treaty marks the completion of a process to enforce an international ban on all categories of weapons of mass destruction following the prohibition of biological and chemical arms. This is another strong incentive for its early ratification, about a century after the deadliest deployment of chlorine gas in Ieper, Belgium during the First World War unleashed an arms race. The world’s nuclear powers, which boycotted the negotiations on the landmark agreement, have remained defiant ever since its adoption. Their continued resistance will no doubt jeopardise its effectiveness. But that does not take away from its sound basis in moral and legal principles.

The Hindu Notes 01st Aug,2017

Drug-smuggling route reveals itself again

Intelligence agencies say cartels have been exploiting vast seas off India and Pakistan
•One of the world’s biggest drug smuggling routes, spread across Afghanistan, Pakistan and the Indian Ocean, with recipients spread in several countries, has revealed itself yet again with the seizure of 1,500 kg of heroin worth over Rs. 3,500 crore off Gujarat coast on Saturday.
•For the past many years there have been several intercepts, occasional seizures and significant suspicious boat movements to reaffirm the intelligence assessment about the massive flow of drugs from Afghanistan into the Indian Ocean, and its distribution to the rest of the world.According to Indian intelligence agencies, drug syndicates have been exploiting the vast seas off India and Pakistan, which is easily accessible from several countries, for running their rackets. According to their assessment, heroin and other drugs come down from Afghanistan and is loaded into fishing trawlers in Karachi, Keti Bandar or other smaller fishing harbours on the Pakistan coast.
•“These boats are not part of the drug syndicates often, mostly they are couriers and get paid for each delivery,” says a source.
•The boats try to keep off Indian Coast Guard and Pakistan Maritime Security Agency, and reach mid-sea. They are guided by controllers from Bangkok, or other parts of Thailand, often with the use of satellite phones.
•The boats carrying drugs are directed to a particular location using GPS, and it is from there the supplies are picked up by incoming boats from other locations. Indian agencies suspect that the pickup boats are mostly coming from Southeast Asia, Sri Lanka, and could also be from larger ships. Once it is resupplied, these Afghan drugs find their way into international markets.
•In recent months, Indian intelligence agencies have regularly tracked satellite phones of these syndicates to gain significant clarity on their operation. However, it was not the case in the past. Many still believe that the purported terror boat that went up in flames after the Coast Guard intercepted it on News Year’s day in 2015 was probably part of the drug smuggling network.
•Sources also believe that the drug that was intercepted on Saturday was not meant for India. “We have not seen drugs being brought into India through this route. It is used for international markets,” one of them said.

5 chemicals banned in firecrackers

Ruling follows inputs from CPCB and explosives safety body
•Ahead of the festive seasons of Dussehra and Deepavali, the Supreme Court on Monday prohibited the use of five chemicals, labelled as toxic by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), in the manufacture of firecrackers.
•A Bench of Justices Madan B. Lokur and Deepak Gupta recorded in its short order that, “that no firecrackers manufactured by the respondents shall contain antimony, lithium, mercury, arsenic and lead in any form whatsoever.
•It is the responsibility of the Petroleum and Explosive Safety Organisation (PESO) to ensure compliance particularly in Sivakasi.”
•The order came after the court heard the submissions from officials of the CPCB and Petroleum and Explosive Safety Organisation’s (PESO) Firework Research and Development Centre at Sivakasi in Tamil Nadu.
•The court asked the CPCB to clarify on the use of strontium, another chemical branded toxic by the pollution body, in firecrackers. . Manufacturers however denied using these chemicals.
•Even as the court gave the CPCB time till September 15 to provide detailed information on the environmental impact, especially air pollution, caused by firecrackers, private manufacturers, who are suffering a court ban on sale of firecrackers in the Delhi and NCR regions, tried to reason that firecrackers is not the only source of pollution.

‘Methanol a clean, cheaper fuel’

NITI Aayog told to examine it as an alternative propellant
•Road Transport and Highways Minister Nitin Gadkari on Monday held a high-level stakeholders meeting to deliberate upon a strategy to use methanol as an alternative fuel in automobiles. The Minister has asked government think-tank NITI Aayog to study the automobile standards developed in China to use methanol as an alternative fuel.
‘Import substitution’
•“Methanol economy will help India use its vast reserves of coal while driving import substitution. Research in converting carbon dioxide to methanol is promising and can be a game-changer for methanol economy,” Mr. Gadkari said after chairing the meeting. Petroleum and Natural Gas Minister Dharmendra Pradhan, New and Renewable Energy Minister Piyush Goyal along with former union minister and Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) chief Sharad Pawar were also present in the meeting.
•“Mr. Gadkari stressed on the use of local or indigenous materials for production of fuel like making ethanol from agriculture produce or waste and from coal,” a Road Transport and Highways Ministry spokesperson said. In its presentation, Niti Aayog said methanol is a promising fuel for waterways as it is clean, cheaper than fossil fuels and a good substitute for heavy fuels. It suggested that ethanol could be made out of coal and informed that a pilot project was already underway in Talcher in Odisha.
•India imports methanol from Saudi Arabia and Iran at present, the think-tank said, adding that it is working on a roadmap for conversion from coal to methanol.
•The government think-tank also said that methanol can be produced from municipal waste as well.
‘Economic sense’
•“All stakeholders agreed that methanol is a promising fuel used in many parts of the world. While in most countries it is being made from natural gas, for India it makes much more economic sense to use locally available coal,” the spokesperson said.

LPG prices to be hiked by Rs. 4 every month: Minister

Centre aims to end all subsidies by March 2018
•The government has ordered State-run oil companies to raise the price of subsidised cooking gas (LPG) by Rs. 4 a cylinder every month to eliminate all subsidies by March next year, Petroleum and Natural Gas Minister Dharmendra Pradhan said on Monday.
•The government had previously asked Indian Oil, Bharat Petroleum and Hindustan Petroleum to raise rates of subsidised domestic LPG by Rs. 2 a 14.2-kg cylinder per month (excluding VAT).
•Now, the quantum has been doubled to bring down the subsidy to nil, he said in a written reply in the Lok Sabha here.
•“Public sector oil marketing companies (OMCs) were authorised to increase the price of the subsidised domestic LPG cylinder by Rs. 2 per cylinder (14.2 kg) per month (excluding VAT) with effect from July 1, 2016,” the Minister said.
•Oil companies had hiked rates on 10 occasions since that go-ahead.
•“The government vide its order dated May 30, 2017, has again authorised OMCs to continue to increase the effective price of subsidised domestic LPG by Rs. 4 per cylinder effective June 1, 2017till the reduction of government subsidy to ‘nil’, or till March 2018, or till further orders, whichever is earliest,” he said.
•Oil companies have raised rates twice since then, the last being on July 1 when rates were up by a steep Rs. 32 per cylinder — the steepest increase in six years. This hike reflected the higher tax rates under the GST regime.

Don’t shoot the messenger

Proposed amendments to the Whistle Blowers Act defeat the very purpose of the legislation
•More than 15 whistle-blowers have been murdered in India in the past three years. Parliament may have passed the Whistle Blowers Protection (WBP) Act in 2014, but this did not help save their lives as the government has doggedly refused to operationalise the law. The Act aims to protect people who bring to the notice of the authorities concerned allegations of corruption, wilful misuse of power or commission of a criminal offence against a public servant.
A wider definition
•Significantly, in defining who a whistle-blower is, the law goes beyond government officials who expose corruption they come across in the course of their work. It includes any other person or non-governmental organisation. The importance of such progressive expansion is underlined by the fact that in the last few years, more than 65 people have been killed for exposing corruption in the government on the basis of information they obtained under the Right to Information (RTI) Act. The RTI law has empowered the common man to have access to information from public authorities — which only government officials were earlier privy to — making every citizen a potential whistle-blower.
•The WBP law has provisions for concealing the identity of a whistle-blower, if so desired, following cases such as Satyendra K. Dubey’s, whose murder in 2003 led to demand for such legislation. In a letter addressed to the Prime Minister, Dubey, a manager in the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) posted at Gaya, had highlighted corrupt practices in the NHAI and specifically requested that his identity be kept secret. But the information was leaked, leading to his murder.
•Most notably, the law affords protection against victimisation of the complainant or anyone who renders assistance in an inquiry. This is critical as whistle-blowers are routinely subjected to various forms of victimisation — suspensions, withholding of promotions, threats of violence and attacks. The law empowers the competent authorities to accord them protection, which includes police protection and penalising those who victimise them. Whistle-blowers Ram Thakur, Nandi Singh and Amit Jethwa were intimidated and sought police protection in vain, before they were murdered.
•Instead of operationalising the WBP law, an amendment Bill, which fundamentally dilutes the law, was introduced in Parliament in 2015 by the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government without public consultation.
Shooting the messenger
•The amendment Bill seeks to remove immunity provided to whistle-blowers from prosecution under the draconian Official Secrets Act (OSA) for disclosures made under the WBP law. Offences under the OSA are punishable by imprisonment of up to 14 years. Threat of such stringent penalties would deter even genuine whistle-blowers. The basic purpose of the WBP Act is to encourage people to report wrongdoing. If whistle-blowers are prosecuted for disclosing information as part of their complaints and not granted immunity from the OSA, the very purpose of the law would be defeated.
•Further, to ostensibly bring the WBP Act in line with the RTI Act, the amendment Bill says that complaints by whistle-blowers containing information which would prejudicially affect the sovereignty, integrity, security or economic interests of the state shall not be inquired into. In addition, certain categories of information cannot form part of the disclosure made by a whistle-blower, unless the information has been obtained under the RTI Act. This includes what relates to commercial confidence, trade secrets which would harm the competitive position of a third party, and information held in a fiduciary capacity. These exemptions have been modelled on Section 8(1) of the RTI law which lists information which cannot be disclosed to citizens.
Two laws, different objectives
•The amendments ignore the fact that the two laws have completely different objectives. The RTI Act seeks to provide information to people, while the WBP Act provides a mechanism for disclosures to be made to competent authorities within the government to enable inquiry into allegations of corruption and provide protection to whistle-blowers.
•Conflating the two laws is inappropriate and would preclude genuine whistle-blowing in several scenarios. For instance, what about government officials who come across evidence of wrongdoing in the normal course of their work and do not need the RTI Act to access relevant information? Again, should complaints exposing corruption in nuclear facilities or sensitive army posts not be inquired into just because they contain information relating to national security? Surely the country would benefit if such wrongdoing is exposed so that appropriate action can be taken.
•If the intention was to ensure that sensitive information pertaining to national security and integrity is not compromised, instead of carving out blanket exemptions the government could have proposed additional safeguards for such disclosures such as requiring complaints to be filed using sealed envelopes to the competent authorities.
•Concerns about these regressive amendments were brushed aside and the Bill pushed through the Lok Sabha in haste. The amendment Bill is listed for discussion and passage in the Rajya Sabha in the current session. To reconsider amendments that would fundamentally dilute the law, and provide an opportunity for public consultation, it is imperative that the Bill be referred to a select committee of the Upper House.
•There is no justification for not operationalising the WBP Act. It is the moral obligation of the government to immediately promulgate the rules and implement the law to offer protection to those who, at great peril, expose wrongdoing.

The Manila envelope

India’s financial aid to the Philippines to fight the Islamic State signals a reworking of its Asean outreach
•In a significant development, India has decided to provide a financial assistance of $5,00,000 (Rs. 3.2 crore) to the Philippines to aid its fight against the Islamic State (IS)-affiliated terror groups in the troubled Mindanao province. This is the first time India is sending aid to another nation to help it fight terrorism, thereby becoming an important marker in New Delhi’s attempts to burnish its credentials as an emerging security provider to the wider Asian region.
•For a long time, India has been trying to convince the world that it remains one of the worst victims of terrorism. But its focus has largely been on Pakistan’s use of terrorism as an instrument of state policy. And where India viewed Pakistan as the epicentre of terrorism, the world remained reluctant to put adequate pressure on a nation that was seen as a close ally in its ‘war against terrorism’. However, under the Narendra Modi government, India has taken a tough stand on Pakistan’s support for terrorism by underscoring its concerns at various international fora. In this context, India’s support to Manila shows a new-found sense of urgency in standing shoulder to shoulder with other victims of terror, even when the source of the problem is different.
Recapturing Marawi
•The siege of Marawi, about 800 km south of the capital Manila, began in May when the Philippine security forces launched an offensive to capture Isnilon Hapilon, leader of the IS-affiliated Abu Sayyaf group. Despite the military offensive, militants remain in control of Marawi which they view as key to their efforts to create an IS province. The civilian toll has been rising, with more than 500 people killed and nearly 4,00,000 civilians displaced. Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has taken a hard line, vowing to “crush” the militants and declaring martial law over the entire southern Philippines. Yet, the end of the conflict is not in sight.
•India has expressed its concerns at the situation and used this crisis to enhance its anti-terror and deradicalisation partnership with the Philippines. India is also conducting cybersecurity training for the Philippine security forces, focusing on deradicalisation. And with this financial aid, India has emerged as the largest donor in efforts to contain the crisis.
•China has provided 15 million pesos (approximately $3,00,000) in aid compared to India’s 25 million pesos ($5,00,000). With the recent fall of Mosul and the fight for Raqqa intensifying by the day, there are suggestions that the days of the IS in its current shape are numbered. The IS of today may appear to be a pale shadow of its past menace when at its peak, since the end of 2014 through 2015, it controlled territory comprising roughly 1,10,000 sq. km, across both Syria and Iraq. But the underlying forces that gave rise to its emergence in West Asia remain as potent as ever and the ideological attraction of its ideology shows no sign of fading. In many ways, it is imperative for India to take a more proactive role in the global struggle against the IS.
•India’s engagement with the Philippines is also key to underscoring its growing role in Southeast Asia where China’s rise has already created serious challenges for the wider region. The regional states are looking at external balancers at a time when America’s commitment to regional security has come under a scanner under the Donald Trump administration. The regional security architecture there is under strain as China’s divide-and-rule policy has made it difficult for regional states to put up a united front. Many states have suggested that India needs to play a larger role. As India and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) celebrate 25 years of their partnership this year, it is a politically opportune moment to upgrade India’s regional profile.
•The Philippines has also been trying to recalibrate its ties with China, under stress because of a suit brought by Manila to the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague challenging Beijing’s claim to almost all of the South China Sea. Though Manila won the case last year, it has not been able to push Beijing to moderate its stance on the maritime dispute. Meanwhile, Mr. Duterte visited China last October and signed deals worth $24 billion in infrastructure investment and loan pledges. India cannot easily match China’s growing economic profile but it has other means to build partnership with a very important region in its foreign policy matrix. The recent outreach to Manila is an important step in that direction. Hopefully, it won’t be the last.

The dilemmas of delimitation

The time has come to grapple with the implications of the freeze on parliamentary seats and seat allocations to States being lifted in 2026
•On Monday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated a brand new Parliament Annexe building that will afford our lawmakers more space and enable better functioning. In a few years from now, we might actually need a new building for Parliament altogether due to the likely increase in number of seats in both Houses after the lifting of the freeze imposed by the Constitution (Forty-second Amendment) Act, 1976, which is due in 2026.
•But more than the need for a new building, the debate has to centre around issues with constitutional dimensions of far-reaching importance — how these additional seats will be allocated to the States, and how to address the concerns which necessitated the freezing of the allocation of seats on the basis of the 1971 Census figures.
Frozen in time
•According to Article 81 of the Constitution — as it stood before the Constitution (Forty-second Amendment) Act, 1976 — the Lok Sabha was to comprise of not more than 550 members. Clause (2) of Article 81 provided that for the purposes of sub-clause (a) of clause (1), there shall be allotted to each State a number of seats in the House of the People in such manner that the ratio between that number and the population of the State is, so far as practicable, the same for all States. Further, clause (3) defined the expression “population” for the purposes of Article 81 to mean the population as ascertained at the last preceding Census of which the relevant figures have been published.
•As result of this mandate, States which took a lead in population control faced the prospect of their number of seats getting reduced and States which had higher population figures stood to gain by increase in the number of seats in Lok Sabha. To allay this apprehension, Section 15 of the Constitution (Forty-second Amendment) Act, 1976 effected a freeze on the population figure with reference to the 1971 Census (which was 54.81 crore with a registered electorate of 27.4 crore) for the purposes of proviso to Article 81(3)(i) until the relevant figures for the first Census taken after the year 2000 have been published. Section 3 of the Constitution (Eighty-fourth Amendment), Act 2001 extended the deadline from 2000 to 2026.
•As a result of the freezing of the allocation of seats, the allocation done on the basis of the 1971 Census continues hold good for the present population figures. According to the 2011 Census, the population of our country stands at 121 crore with a registered electorate of 83.41 crore. Basing the 1971 Census figure of 54.81 crore to represent today’s population presents a distorted version of our democratic polity and is contrary to what is mandated under Article 81 of the Constitution. So when the first Census figure will be available after 2026 — that is, in 2031 — a fresh delimitation will have to done which will dramatically alter the present arrangement of seat allocation to the States in Parliament.
•Before addressing the problem of accommodating the increase in numbers, there are more important questions which require to be debated and answers found. First, the concerns expressed by the States in 1976 which necessitated the freezing of seat allocation on the basis of 1971 population figures would appear to hold good even today and have to be addressed to the satisfaction of all stakeholders.
•The second question that has to be addressed, which is equally if not more important, is how the Presiding Officers of the Houses/Legislatures will deal with such a large number of members jostling with each other to capture the attention of the Speaker to raise issues in the House. Even with the current strength of 543 members, the Speaker finds it extremely difficult to conduct the proceedings of the House. Members do not show much heed to the entreaties of the Speaker, thereby making smooth conduct of House proceedings a difficult affair. The Speaker’s directions and rulings are not shown proper respect, and disruptions of proceedings aggravate the problem. The sudden increase in numbers will render the task of the Speaker more difficult and onerous.
•Third, the Zero Hour, Question Hour and the raising matters of urgent public importance, which are warp and woof our democratic fabric, will be subjected to severe strain because the 60-odd minutes which are available in the morning before the normal legislative business of the House begins will require our Parliament and Legislatures to sit for a longer duration each day during the session as well as have more number of sittings in a year than at present.
•While 2026 is still a few years away, if we do not start a debate now on how to deal with the problems that are likely to arise, we will be forced to postpone the lifting of the freeze to a future date as was done in 2001. This will only postpone the problem for which we must find a solution sooner or later. Even the various proposals for electoral reforms which have been recommended by various Commissions over the past decade do not address these issues. These are challenges which our political leaders have to address in the immediate future.

The Reserve Bank is off target

The idea that interest rates are the right way to tackle inflation in India needs a serious rethink
•“Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influence, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist. Madmen in authority, who hear voices in the air, are distilling their frenzy from some academic scribbler of a few years back.” These lines from John Maynard Keynes come to mind when observing the recent performance of the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) with respect to the conduct of monetary policy. Strenuous effort has been made to lead the citizen to believe that one of the many significant actions of the government of the day is to have moved monetary policy in India onto a “modern” plane. The centrepiece of this claim is that the central bank will now be judged entirely in terms of its record on inflation. That is, the RBI has been reconfigured as an ‘inflation-targeting’ central bank. As part of this arrangement, it has been set an inflation target of 4%. Then, somewhat counter-intuitively, it has been given leeway in the form of a band within which the inflation outcome may lie. This band is wide, ranging from 2% to 6%.
Missing the point
•Since the move to inflation targeting, naturally, the RBI has been watched. In the early days it appeared to be coming out with flying colours with inflation not only well within the band but also declining. However, that the growth in the segment of the economy most directly under the control of the RBI, namely manufacturing, has been declining too has been noticed less. Under the new arrangement, the RBI cannot be held responsible for what happens to growth as it is to be judged entirely by what happens to inflation. But since June there is disruption and not in terms of the new vocabulary. Consumer price inflation has now declined to 1.5% in June; though only 0.5% below its lower bound, this inflation rate is far below the targeted 4%. Surely this is a case of missing one’s target by a long shot.
•Rather than waste our time shaming the RBI, we should fruitfully engage with the idea of whether inflation targeting is the right way to tackle inflation in India. That central banks are unable to control the inflation rate is evident from the record of the Bank of England. One of the first central banks to shift to inflation targeting, and endowed with intellectual capital of the highest class, the ‘Old Lady of Threadneedle Street’ has a dismal record of achieving its inflation target. Why is this so? Is it that the bank was also trying to accommodate other economic variables such as employment or the exchange rate? While the latter is possible of course, it is highly unlikely, as no group of high-profile professionals would want to fail so publicly in their mandated task. The reason why they fail is because ‘inflation targeting’ is based on a poor understanding of inflation.
A flawed model
•The model underlying inflation targeting is that inflation reflects output being greater than the economy’s ‘potential’. The task now is to bring output back to its potential level via an interest rate hike. A problem with the model is that the potential level of output is unobservable. Moreover, the potential is believed to be subject to change by the proponents of the model themselves. To these infirmities, the response given is that it does not matter, as we need only observe inflation to conclude that there is an output gap. The problem with this form of reasoning is that it is self-referential. This may be demonstrated in the form of a conversation that proceeds as follows: “Why is the inflation rate rising?” “Because unemployment is below its natural rate.” “But how do you know?” “Because inflation is rising!” Here, ‘natural rate’ refers to the level of employment corresponding to potential output. It appears that under inflation targeting, the policymaker must proceed on faith. This is not a sound basis for governance.
•Developing countries such as India have an economic structure different from the developed ones of the West for which inflation targeting was first devised. An aspect of this is that agricultural production is subject to fluctuation, and along with this the prices of agricultural goods. Now, when the relative price of agricultural goods rises due to slower growth of agriculture, the inflation rate rises. Such an inflation has nothing to with an economy-wide imbalance gap as visualised in the ‘output gap model’ underlying inflation targeting. Under inflation targeting, the response to rising agricultural prices would be to raise the rate of interest. This may have some desirable impact on inflation but it can come only at the cost of output loss in the non-agricultural sector. The output loss can only be rationalised as necessary by holding on to the assertion that inflation reflects actual output being greater than potential. But note that the whole process has been set off by a slowing of agricultural output. Now, the only way the output gap model can retain some traction in the context is by asserting that along with the reduction in agricultural output growth, the potential output is growing at an even slower rate. This is completely ad hoc and without a scientific basis.
Role of agriculture
•The role of agricultural prices in driving inflation in India is evident presently. Though the overall consumer price index is rising at 1.5%, that for agricultural commodities is actually falling, reflecting the fall in the relative price of agricultural goods we have referred to. Thus the RBI may have just got lucky over the recent past that commodity prices, which include domestically produced agricultural goods and imported oil, have grown at a slower pace. So, it is not at all clear that even when the inflation rate was within the band, it was the RBI’s handiwork rather than the hand of the weather gods in evidence. Champions of inflation targeting, observing the current decline in the inflation rate in India, are quick to claim victory for the RBI in terms of having anchored inflationary expectations, a claim for which the slightest evidence is given. It is to be recognised that even though the RBI cannot directly move agricultural prices, its response to their movement matters. As agricultural price inflation continues to fall, driving down the overall inflation rate, the real rate of interest rises. If the central bank does not respond by lowering the policy rate the real rate of interest will continue to rise, with negative consequences for non-agricultural output. This is exactly what we observe happening of late. We want to avoid a deflationary spiral.
•To end with some exegesis. So, who in the case of our ‘modern’ monetary policy might be the “defunct” economist of the quote we started out with? It is Milton Friedman who asserted — without argument, it may be noted — that inflation reflects an output gap. The idea itself he borrowed from the nineteenth century economist Knut Wicksell. Friedman had recommended money supply control, a policy aggressively adopted by Margaret Thatcher in England but also in most parts of the West. When this policy failed, it was replaced by ‘inflation targeting’. This choice of terminology was truly inspired, for its very use conveys the resolve of actually trying to do something about inflation. But it is also tendentious, bearing the suggestion that there is no other method of inflation control. Whatever you may say about Friedman, he was not a slouch when it came to inflation. Back in India, with the RBI off target by a wide margin, we can see that inflation targeting is not what it is cracked up to be. Inflation control here requires supply management. This is not rocket science.

The Hindu Notes 31st July,2017

SC summons officials on firecracker pollution

Industries have to adhere to safety standards, says court
•The Supreme Court has pointed out a lack of clarity on the pollutive impact of explosive substances used in firecrackers and ordered officials from the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) and Firework Research and Development Centre at Sivakasi in Tamil Nadu to be present in court.
•“We are concerned with air pollution. Dussehra and Diwali are coming. Somebody has to regulate these industries. PESO [Petroleum and Explosives Safety Organisation] is saying they have some standards. Firecrackers industries have to adhere to it,” a Bench led by Justice Madan B. Lokur observed.
•The court asked the officials to be present on July 31.
Impact on air quality
•The apex court said it wanted to know from these bodies the impact of firecrackers on the environment, the extent of change in the air quality and the safety standards in place. “There appears to be a lack of clarity on environmental impact of pollution from firecrackers,” the court said.
•The court chided the CPCB, observing that it cannot shift its burden of protecting the environment and framing wholistic air pollution standards, covering firecrackers also. Additional Solicitor General P.S. Patwalia reasoned that firecracker industries function are under intense watch and strict regulations are in place.
•He said continuous monitoring was going on and random checks of firecrackers by PESO and the Controller of Explosives are done. But firecrackers manufacturers from Sivakasi countered that PESO should inform them prior to these checks.
•The CPCB had earlier filed a report indicating that most firecrackers contain a large amount of sulphur, a major cause of air pollution.

 Rs. 562 crore in black money seized last fiscal, says report

•Detection and reporting of suspicious transactions, fake notes and cross-border fund transfers in the country’s economic channels doubled in the last fiscal year, leading to the unearthing of over Rs. 560 crore in black money, a government report has said.
•The report of the Financial Intelligence Unit, the premier technical investigation wing under the Finance Ministry, said the financial year 2015-16 saw a “record increase” in the detection of such instances.
•All banks and financial intermediaries apprise the FIU of detections in compliance with anti-money laundering and counter-terror financing measures.
•The number of cash transaction reports (CTRs) doubled from 80 lakh in 2014-15 to over 1.6 crore in 2015-16 and that of suspicious transaction reports (STRs) rose from 58,646 to 1,05,973 during the period, it said.
•The report said that based on the STRs disseminated by the FIU, the CBDT had detected unaccounted income of Rs. 154.89 crore, the Enforcement Directorate nosed out proceeds of crime of Rs. 107.47 crore and the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI) came across assets worth Rs. 300 crore during 2015-16. The total value of money unearthed stands at Rs. 562.36 crore.

Centre to share missing Bofors files

PAC asks Defence Ministry to trace them and notings related to the deal
•The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) of Parliament has asked the Defence Ministry to trace all missing files related to the Bofors scandal and share them with it.
•The six-member sub-committee on defence, headed by BJD MP Bhartruhari Mahtab, is looking into the long-pending non-compliance of certain aspects of the Comptroller and Auditor- General (CAG) report on the Bofors guns deal.
Strong objections
•The PAC strongly objected to the Ministry’s suggestion that certain paragraphs of the CAG report may be dropped as some files related to it are missing, according to the minutes of the parliamentary panel’s meeting, a copy of which is with PTI.
•The meeting was held earlier this month.
•During the meeting, Mr. Mahtab and BJP MP Nishikant Dubey stressed the need for top Ministry officials to trace and share missing files and notings related to the deal.
•According to the minutes of the meeting, top Defence Ministry officials agreed that the Ministry will share all the required details with the PAC.
•When contacted, two MPs who are members of the committee confirmed that the Ministry has agreed to share the details with them.
•The Bofors scandal relating to alleged payment of kickbacks in procurement of howitzer artillery guns had triggered a massive political storm and led to the fall of the Rajiv Gandhi government in 1989.
•The CAG report on Bofors is the oldest “pending” report before the PAC, which examines audit reports of the Comptroller and Auditor General of India after these are tabled in Parliament.

SC allows two firms to settle loan dispute

Court uses extraordinary powers in case admitted to NCLT
•In what may turn out to be a relief for corporate debtors facing insolvency proceedings, the Supreme Court used its extraordinary constitutional powers to allow two companies to withdraw from insolvency proceedings and settle their loan dispute, despite the case being admitted to the National Company Law Tribunal (NCLT).
•Once the NCLT admits a case for initiating corporate insolvency resolution process under the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code of 2016, it cannot be withdrawn even if the parties decide to settle the dispute between t hem.
•However, a Bench of Justices Rohinton Nariman and S.K. Kaul used the Supreme Court’s powers to do “complete justice” under Article 142 of the Constitution to bring quietus to the financial dispute between Lokhandwala Kataria Construction Pvt. Ltd. and Nisus Finance and Investment Manager LLP, represented by Shiv Kumar Suri and Shikhil Suri.
•The court took on record the consent terms entered into by the companies and their undertaking to abide by them in settling the amounts due.
NCLAT finding
•The Bench’s decision came despite the National Company Law Appellate Tribunal (NCLAT) finding no merit in the appeal filed by Lokhandwala.
•The NCLAT Bench on July 13, 2017 recorded in its order that it was open for the financial creditor to withdraw the insolvency application under the Code only before a case was admitted and not after.
•The Supreme Court found that order prima facie correct. But this did not stop it from using its special powers to allow the parties a second chance to settle the dispute.

U.S. prods India on Pyongyang

Wants diplomatic presence reduced
•India is facing increased pressure to reduce North Korea’s diplomatic presence in the country as Pyongyang flexes its military muscles.
•During talks with Indian officials last week, a U.S. State Department delegation took up the presence of a large number of North Korean diplomats in India, and urged New Delhi to “shrink” North Korea’s diplomatic footprint in South Asia.
•India has criticised recent North Korean missile launches and nuclear tests. However, bilateral political and diplomatic ties, though minimal, have remained on track.
Modi visit
•The western pressure is driven by the fact that India and the U.S. have held talks on the North Korean actions most recently during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Washington on June 27 when both sides “condemned” Pyongyang’s actions.
•They also indicated that both sides would “work together to counter the DPRK’s weapons of mass destruction programmes”.
•The meeting between the U.S. State Department’s officials in New Delhi last week was the first such move after Mr. Modi’s visit.
•The Hindu has learnt that the U.S. officials have indicated that they would like to see “less” diplomatic courtesies extended to the North Korean officials present in India.
•India has maintained ties with North Korea since the birth of the nation following the Korean war in the 1950s, and North Korea had been an active member of the Non-Alignment movement during the Cold War.
•However, bilateral ties cooled in the 1990s when Pakistan extended support to the country’s nuclear programme.
•Officials pointed out that ties between Pakistan and North Korea were significant in the past, but it was no longer on the same scale.
Sanctions busted
•The main worries at the moment are the reclusive country’s ability to use global loopholes to bypass the UN-enforced sanctions. Recent reports from Sri Lanka and Pakistan have indicated that North Korea has exploited export rules to earn much-needed foreign remittances.
•Another issue is the North Korean ability to attack political or diplomatic opponents across the world. In February this year, a stepbrother of the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un was assassinated at an airport in Jakarta.
•The sensational incident highlighted the need to deter the country from carrying out similar attacks against international targets elsewhere.
•The Hindu has learnt that India has been asked to heighten watch in various South Asian locations to ward off any possible North Korean security or diplomatic operation.

Talks begin to divest AI arm

National carrier has India’s largest MRO unit for engines, components overhaul
•Informal talks have begun to find potential buyers for Air India’s subsidiaries, including its maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) business — Air India Engineering Services Limited (AIESL) — even as airlines wait for clarity on the Centre’s next step on divesting its stake in indebted national carrier, Air India.
•An expression of interest from India’s oldest private sector MRO service provider, Air Works, has come as a shot in the arm for the Centre that is considering an option to split Air India’s different businesses and hive them off separately.
•“Air Works has expressed an interest in acquiring a stake in AIESL which has the largest MRO business in the country with a facility for component and engine overhaul,” sources aware of the development said.
•The government believes divesting Air India’s ground-handling, MRO and airline operations separately would make the deal more attractive for private players, Civil Aviation Ministry sources said. The Centre has already received a formal expression of interest from the country’s largest private carrier IndiGo for Air India’s airline operations.
‘Wait and watch’
•Vivek Gour, MD & CEO, Air Works, said: “I am watching the situation very carefully but it is too early to say anything because the government has to take a call on whether they will sell Air India as a whole or break up its subsidiaries and sell. Nothing is clear. We will wait and watch.”
•The Centre may also hold talks with foreign MRO players such as Jordan Aircraft Maintenance Limited (JorAMCo), Hong Kong Aircraft Engineering Company (HAECO) and Etihad Airways Engineering — which are keen to invest in the MRO business in India — to ascertain their interest in acquiring Air India’s subsidiary, sources said.
•On June 28, the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs, chaired by the Prime Minister, gave an in-principle nod for strategic divestment of Air India.
•It also approved strategic disinvestment in Air India’s subsidiaries, including AIESL, ground handling arm Air India Transport Services Ltd., Air India Charters Limited which operates Air India Express and Airline Allied Services Ltd., which operates Alliance Air.
•A group of Ministers under Finance Minister Arun Jaitley has been formed to decide on the modalities of Air India’s stake sale. “Whether subsidiaries should go as part of Air India, meaning whoever buys Air India automatically buys this, or whether they should be completely demerged and divested simultaneously but separately, will be decided,” Civil Aviation Secretary R.N. Choubey had said.
•AIESL has facilities at New Delhi, Mumbai, Hyderabad, Nagpur, Thiruvanantha-puram and Kolkata for carrying out maintenance, repair and overhaul on various types of Airbus and Boeing aircraft.
•AIESL has, however, been incurring losses since its inception in 2013 when it was carved out of Air India as a separate business unit. In 2016-17, AIESL’s losses rose 17% to Rs. 653 crore as per provisional estimates.
•“MRO is a capital-intensive industry with [a] highly competitive environment, with low returns and there is a long payback or cost absorption period in view of the fixed overheads on infrastructure facilities and high wage costs due to licensed manpower,” AIESL’s annual report for 2014-15 had said.

RBI may cut key interest rate by 25 basis points

Expectation is mainly due to a fall in retail inflation, which eased to 1.54% in June — a record low
•The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) is expected to reduce the key policy rate or the repo rate by 25 basis points (bps) to 6% in its monetary policy review meeting scheduled for August 2 while maintaining neutral stance on interest rates.
•If the RBI does cut the repo rate, this could only be the second such instance by the monetary policy committee (MPC) since it was established in October 2016.
•The expectation of a rate cut is mainly due to a fall in retail inflation, which eased to 1.54% in June — a record low, after reading 2.18% in May.
•The benign consumer inflation reading for successive months has made economists believe that inflation may have fallen to 4% on a durable basis.
•Inflation for June was lower than the RBI’s target band of 2-6%.
•“India may have already become a 4% inflation economy,” said Pranjul Bhandari, chief India economist, HSBC. “We expect the RBI to cut the policy repo rate by 25 bps on 2 August to bring it down to 6%,” she said in a note to its clients.
•RBI had changed its stance to neutral from accomodative in its February which surprised market participants. However, during the last policy review in June, the central bank revised its inflation projection downwards to 2-3.5% in the first half of the year and 3.5-4.5% in the second half — opening up the possibility of a rate reduction.
•The earlier projection for retail inflation in the first half of the fiscal was 4.5% and 5% in the second half.
•Importantly, one of the members of the Monetary Policy Committee, R.H. Dholakia, voted for a 50 bps rate cut during the last policy meeting in June.
•“Considering this slippage in inflation, coupled with the fact that forward-looking factors that earlier had clouded the inflation outlook had also turned out to be relatively benign, we therefore expect the RBI to take up one more rate cut in the August meeting,” Morgan Stanley, which also expects a 25 bps cut, said in a report.
•While most economists expect a 25 bps rate cut on Wednesday, the RBI is likely to hold on to its neutral stance. Opinion is divided as to whether there would be further rate cuts.
•While Morgan Stanley ruled out further rate cuts beyond August, Ms. Bhandari of HSBC expected another rate cut if inflation remained well below 4% in the second half of the financial year.
•“We see a risk of another 25 bps rate cut if inflation remains well below 4% in 2HFY18,” she said.
•Economists said the market will react positively if, on August 2, the central bank says further monetary policy action would be data dependent. “If RBI delivers a 25 bps rate cut next week and says that future policy action will depend on how data evolves in the next few months, this should be supportive for market sentiments, as it will signal that the central bank is not ruling out possibility of further rate cuts in the period ahead, as long as the data supports such a stance,” said Kaushik Das, India chief economist of Deutsche Bank.

Housing prices are alive and kicking

A new index shows prices across most cities have risen, despite stories of over supply and dull demand
•Can the selling price rise when a market is over-supplied and demand is dull? Economics tells us that it can’t, but the Indian housing market seems to be defying this rule.
•Earlier this month, the Ministry of Housing flagged off a new index — the NHB Residex — designed to track housing price trends in 50 cities across India. Releasing the data, the Ministry claimed that the new index offered proof that demonetisation hadn’t dealt a big blow to the housing market.
•Trends in the Residex certainly support this claim. According to lenders’ data compiled by the NHB Residex, as many as 32 of the 50 cities tracked registered rising housing prices and 13 recorded stable trends, in the twelve months to March 2017. Only 5 cities saw declines.
•Large markets also exhibited very positive long-term trends. The Residex noted a 44% rise in home prices in Pune, 41% in Mumbai, 37% in Bengaluru and 33% in Chennai, from FY13 to the first quarter of FY17.
•But this trend of resilient prices sits rather oddly with the tales of woe about the residential market doing the rounds in the last couple of years, which talk of slower sales and a stockpile of unsold homes.
A perfect storm
•The year 2016-17 saw a perfect storm of events come together to dampen demand for housing in India. First came demonetisation and the resulting purge of the cash component in real estate transactions. Then the Budget delivered a rude shock by capping the tax break from ‘loss on house property’ at Rs. 2 lakh a year, for second and subsequent homes. This effectively put paid to the ‘investment’ buying of homes, a key source of housing demand in Tier 1 cities. Cloudy job prospects, stingy increments and layoffs for the IT sector dampened purchases by this crucial segment too.
•The last nail in the coffin was the enactment of RERA (Real Estate Regulation Act) on May 1. The new law, which forces developers to segregate buyer advances and deploy it only in specific projects, was expected to result in a working capital crunch for developers. The industry was in go-slow mode in the run up to this event.
•Reports show that these events did, in fact, shake up the housing market. Consulting firm Knight Frank India noted in a recent review that,the sales of residential homes in the top eight cities fell by a precipitous 48% in the second half of 2016, compared with the previous year. In January-June 2017, they climbed from that abyss, but home sales in these cities were still 11% below 2016 levels.
•Slowing sales saddled developers with large unsold inventory.
•Industry researcher Liases Foras estimated that, at an all-India level, builders sat on about 46 months of housing inventory in September 2016. In effect, even if they refrained from launches, it would take 4 years for them to liquidate their existing stock.
Why the price rise
•Such excess inventory in any business would normally lead to sellers resorting to fire sales. But the Residex tells us that home prices didn’t fall in a majority of cities. What could explain this?
•While one can only guess, there are three possibilities. One, given that home ownership is a big aspiration in India, new categories of buyers may have emerged to take up the slack.
•For instance, while ‘investment’ buying was muted, it is likely that lower interest rates induced more first-time home buyers to take home loans to acquire residential property. The 12% growth in bank home loan disbursements in FY17, as per RBI data, indicates this.
•Two, the lower demand for upmarket homes may have been made up by a surge in demand for affordable homes. In the last few years, much of the housing market activity in India was focussed on upmarket homes in the metros, costing upwards of Rs. 75 lakh. But there was a chronic shortage of affordable homes in the sub-Rs. 25 lakh segment. This past year, the Government launched a big stimulus package for affordable housing with an upfront subsidy, with the result that the supply of low-cost homes has jumped. The Knight Frank report notes that homes costing up to Rs. 25 lakh accounted for 36% of launches in H1 2017, compared with 17% a year earlier.
•Three, it is also possible that, thanks to private equity or political funding, many sellers in the Indian real estate industry have staying power, allowing them to wait interminably for buyers to return.
•Such explanations apart, the price trends captured in the Residex could also have a lot to do with the strange nature of the real estate beast.
Nature of the beast
•One, unlike the market for shares, where all transactions take place on a national exchange and can be collated into a single ‘quote’, the housing market is fragmented into dozens of micro-markets.
•Housing prices can vary widely between cities in the same State, localities within the same city and even neighbourhoods within a locality. Transactions are negotiated one-on-one between buyers and sellers and then reported; deal values depend mainly on the negotiating power of each buyer vis a vis the seller.
•Two, for the prices in any market to realistically capture demand and supply, the number of reported transactions needs to be large. In the housing market, when prices are low, sellers are known to refrain from deals, leading to fewer transactions. Property deal-making was indeed at a low ebb across India this past year, with sellers unwilling to drop prices, buyers waiting for better bargains and new launches on hold. Therefore, it is quite plausible that the prices culled from the reported deals were not wholly representative of the market mood.
•All these issues, however, don’t detract from the usefulness of the NHB Residex as an indicator. So far, home buyers had no publicly available benchmark to go by, when assessing list prices quoted by developers in their cities. Policy makers and lenders had no means to gauge long-term trends in housing across India, for decisions about monetary policy or interest rate-setting.
•Investors weighing options had no means to compare real estate returns with those from asset classes such as shares or gold, to make sensible choices.
•The NHB Residex fulfils this crying need. Hopefully, as the index expands its coverage to more cities and broad-bases its sources, it will make the Indian housing market more transparent and empower the hapless home buyer.

The autonomy façade

It is time for Prasar Bharati to shed its pretence and become officially ‘sarkari’
•The Prasar Bharati Corporation is neither fish nor fowl, as editorials and opinion articles have pointed out. This mix-up in identity is due to the peculiar existential crisis the corporation finds itself in. Called an autonomous corporation by an act passed in Parliament, it is so only in name as neither the employees — numbering around 27,000 — nor the government have wanted to let go of the ‘government’s premier broadcaster’ tag.
•A controversy surfaced again last week when media reports said that the corporation had issued an order to its news divisions asking them to subscribe to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS)-backed Hindustan Samachar news agency after terminating its long-standing subscriptions of PTI and UNI news services. This was subsequently denied.
‘No corporation’ movement
•A talk with its employees will reveal that they don’t want the corporation tag any more. It doesn’t mean anything. At the very least, a ‘ sarkari ’ tag ensured a government accommodation. The orders were clear. The director general was the boss and his boss was the Information and Broadcasting Minister. Orders flowed from here to Mandi House which housed Doordarshan. Then came the corporation tag in 1997 and it has since then become difficult for the once-formidable All India Radio and Doordarshan to shake the label off. However, it has meant very little on the ground.
•This is as good a time as any to debate whether the government needs a channel of its own. There are obstacles to that as recommendations from the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) have ruled that State governments cannot have channels of their own. Hence, rules have been flouted as the clamour for a ‘ sarkari ’ channel only increases. In this day and time when most media houses are only too willing to do the government’s bidding, what will another channel achieve?
Greater role clarity
•A ‘ sarkari ’ channel would leave the viewer under no illusion when it comes to the source of the news, its veracity and its presentation. A government channel would ensure that the Minister heading it would have the employees under her thumb. When in government, both the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have had problems adjusting to the ‘autonomous corporation’ status, not knowing where to draw the line. Governments headed by both the parties have had senior Indian Information Service officers appointed to keep a close watch on news and other programmes even after Prasar Bharati was declared autonomous. Further, the CEOs at the helm so far have been bureaucrats.
•Perhaps it’s time to drop the pretence of autonomy and restore the glory to the official broadcaster. Perhaps it’s time to bring back ‘Her Master’s Voice’ again.

The Hindu Notes 30th July,2017

 Centre plans to remote-map canals

•The Centre plans to link all canals via a geographical information system that would allow them to be remotely mapped. V.K. Vohra, Commissioner (Irrigation) said that 99 projects, identified as a part of the Accelerated Irrigation Benefit Programme, would have canals under satellite scrutiny to ensure that they be completed on time.
•The Central government has earmarked Rs. 77,595 crore to states to complete a range of irrigation projects that have been stuck for decades owing to lack of funds, with the water ministry committed to ensuring that 99 such projects would be completed by 2020. Twenty-three would be completed by 2016-17 and 31 by 2017-18. One of the major reasons for the projects to remain incomplete was inadequate provision of funds by the concerned State governments.
•“Some of these canals could be hundreds of kilometres long and some much smaller,” said Mr. Vohra.

Sri Lanka completes $1 billion port deal with Chinese firm

An integral part of Belt & Road Initiative
•Sri Lanka on Saturday sealed a billion-dollar deal to let a Chinese state firm take over a loss-making port in a move that worries many, including India.
•The long-delayed $1.1 billion sale of a 70% stake in Hambantota port, which straddles the world’s busiest east-west shipping route, was confirmed by Sri Lanka’s Ports Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe.
•The government used tough laws against industrial action to stop workers going on strike this week to oppose the sale to China Merchants Port Holdings.
•India is nervous about China’s infrastructure moves into its traditional sphere of influence. “We have addressed geo-political concerns,” the Minister said at a signing ceremony in Colombo. China has accepted that everything in this agreement will operate under Sri Lankan law.”
•Negotiations over the deal were held up for months amid opposition from trade unions and political parties. The Minister said this week that several countries had raised fears about the sale. India and the United States are known to be concerned that China getting a foothold at the deep-sea port could give it a military naval advantage in the Indian Ocean.
•Samarasinghe said that Hambantota, 240 km south of Colombo, will not be a military base for any country.
•China Merchants built and operates Sri Lanka’s only major deep-sea terminal in Colombo, which can accommodate the world’s largest container carriers.
Strategic partner
•Executive vice president Hu Jianhua said the company wanted to make Hambantota the gateway to expanding economies in South Asia and Africa where it has similar port operations.
•“[The] business of Hambantota port will be cross border, across the Indian ocean, stretching to the Far East, to Europe and to the globe,” Mr. Hu said.
•“Sri Lanka will be well positioned to play a strategic role in the one-belt-one-road initiative of the government of the People’s Republic of China,” Mr. Hu said.
•Sri Lanka has signed up to President Xi Jinping’s signature foreign policy initiative, which aims to strengthen China’s land and sea trade routes.
•India has snubbed Mr. Xi’s plan and skipped a May summit in Beijing that was attended by world leaders. Mr. Samarasinghe said Hambantota will be purely a commercial port, but any routine port calls by foreign navies will be regulated by Sri Lanka as in the case with the Colombo port.

Trump to sign Russia sanctions legislation

•U.S. President Donald Trump plans to sign legislation slapping punitive sanctions on Russia, Iran and North Korea that the Congress approved this week, the White House has said.
•The legislation bars Mr. Trump from easing or waiving the penalties on Russia unless Congress agrees.
•In its statement, the White House said Mr. Trump “negotiated regarding critical elements” of early drafts of the bill and approved the final draft “based on its responsiveness to his negotiations”.
•The Senate passed the bill, 98-2, two days after the House of Representatives pushed the measure through by a 419-3 margin. Both were veto-proof numbers.
•“President Donald J Trump read early drafts of the bill and negotiated regarding critical elements of it,” White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said.
•“He has now reviewed the final version and, based on its responsiveness to his negotiations, approves the bill and intends to sign it,” Ms. Sanders said without giving a time frame when it would be signed into law. The legislation, could put strain on Mr. Trump’s ability to improve ties with Russia.

A two-in-one solution

Experts call for integrating hepatitis testing and treatment as a component in the national programme for HIV
•Hepatitis C, a disease that closely mimics the deadly HIV infection, has been ignored for long, say medical experts. The chronic liver infection caused by the blood-borne hepatitis C virus (HCV) kills nearly 96,000 people in India annually. This, despite the fact that the availability of a range of new drugs has drastically improved its cure rate to over 95%.
Testing for two
•Experts also point to the threat of HCV co-infection with HIV, given that both diseases have same routes of transmission. “The need of the hour is to integrate HCV testing and treatment as a component in the already existing national programme for HIV,” says Dr. V. Sam Prasad, country manager, AIDS Healthcare Foundation, adding that instead of designing a new programme that may take years, tweaking an existing programme would be simpler and faster. He says just like HIV, that now has a ‘test and treat’ policy as a part of the Antiretroviral Therapy (ART) guidelines, a revised version could add a similar approach for HCV.
•Like HIV, HCV can be transmitted through injectable drug use through the sharing of needles, reuse or inadequate sterilisation of medical equipment such as syringes and needles, and transfusion of unscreened blood and blood products. Though very uncommon, it can also be transmitted sexually and can be passed from an infected mother to her baby.
•According to Dr. A.R. Pazare, head of the medicine department at Mumbai’s King Edward Memorial (KEM) Hospital, the cure rate of HCV was extremely low till about five years ago as there were merely two drugs to treat it. “But now, as many as 30 new drugs are now available. They have become a game changer for the disease,” he says, adding that despite this, the threat of disease continues due to the overlapping modes of transmission with HIV.
•“We should react quicker to curb it. Also, there is extremely low awareness about the disease.”
Co-infection cases
•Approximately 12 million people in India are chronically infected with hepatitis C. Globally, 2.3 million people living HIV are co-infected with HCV of which nearly 1.3 million are injectable drug users. While India lacks data on co-infections, rough estimates state that 60,000 people with HIV also have HCV.“It is highly impossible that these estimates are accurate,” says Dr. Prasad, adding that the disease often presents no symptoms and hence is diagnosed very late. “In most cases, liver cirrhosis or fibrosis sets in by then,” he says, adding that 20% of the patients are unaware of their status.
•A 2010 article published in the Indian Journal of Sexually Transmitted Diseasescited the results of a study carried out in the Department of Microbiology, Nair Hospital, Mumbai to track the co-infections of HIV with hepatitis B virus (HBV) and HCV. Of the 540 HIV seropositive patients, 90 (16.7%) were positive for HBV and 7 (1.3%) were positive for HCV antibodies. While heterosexual high-risk behaviour was observed in 435 (80.6%) patients, 15 (2.8%) patients had a history of blood transfusion. Two patients (0.4%) who were intravenous drug users were positive for HIV, HBV and HCV. The article lay emphasis on the necessity of integrating HIV and HBV/HCV care into the National AIDS Control Programme and commence interventions and treatment guidelines for patients with HIV and HBV/HCV co-infection.
•A study published last year in The Lancet too stated that not only are people with HIV at much higher risk of HCV infection, groups such as people who inject drugs have an extremely high prevalence of HCV infection — over 80%. “There is a need to scale-up routine testing to diagnose HCV infection in HIV programmes worldwide, especially among high-risk groups, as the first step towards accessing the new, highly curative HCV treatments,” said an official of the World Health Organization, which had commissioned the study.Living independently, the Thoreau way
The 19th century writer was an archetype of what humans could aspire to be if we had the conviction to live life on our own terms
•On July 4, 1845, a 27-year-old Henry David Thoreau moved into a cabin near a lake called Walden Pond in Massachusetts, north-eastern United States. His goal, he wrote later, was “to live deliberately, to [con]front only the essential facts of life”. We learn of these and other words that speak of Thoreau’s intentions from the writings he left behind. His journals tracked his life from October 1837 to November 1861, eventually filling up 47 manuscript volumes.
•The most famous of his books was Walden; or, Life in the Woods , an assemblage of sustained thinking about life in a rural setting, deeply felt psychological insights amidst everyday life and some sharp criticisms of the society around him. All of these are sketched out in an artful prose that is extraordinary in its attention to the sensuousness and specificities of reality. As a book that has survived generations, Walden lives on in the cathedrals of American literary consciousness as a sort of moonlt gargoyle, tucked away, sitting vigil over modernity and its discontents.
200th birth anniversary
•In July 2017, as the politics of neo-nationalisms and hyper-patriotisms froths manically, America has begun to celebrate Thoreau’s bicentennial birth anniversary. For many, this is a moment of discovery. His words reveal — and not just to Americans — that it is possible to be a loving son or daughter of a nation, to be in thrall of its wilds and rivers and in admiration of its collective intelligence and spirit, and yet deny the strictures of convenient patriotisms. They also discover that more than his efforts to critique a society, it was his willingness to declare himself independent from social expectations, to live unburdened by convention, which made him a secular saint.
•Today, Thoreau is known far and wide across America. But this knowledge is hazy and is almost reluctantly remembered, much in the manner one remembers a long-forgotten cat that returns every now and then to mew in the attic of American intellectual life.
•Reading him in the month of his 200th birth anniversary, one can see what has attracted generations of readers and thinkers towards him. Thoreau emerges in our eyes as an archetype of independent thinking, a way to be free if only we had the strength and conviction to live life on our own terms.
•Schools with progressive curricula now teach their students excerpts from Walden . Whether high schoolers see in his life a quest for authentic living or merely self-indulgence is hard to tell. Over the past 200 years, however, not everybody has been welcoming of Thoreau or his influence. In early 20th century, the great jurist Oliver Wendell Holmes offered his curmudgeonly assessment that Thoreau was “[a] nullifier of civilization, who insisted on nibbling his asparagus at the wrong end”. In the 1950s, Senator Joseph McCarthy, who wasn’t averse to seeing windmills for dragons, got a textbook of American literature proscribed from government-funded libraries because it contained Thoreau’s essay on civil disobedience. The children, the Senator presumably feared, might learn to defy family, society and government in the name of their conscience. Today, it is fashionable in many quarters to indict Thoreau as a humourless misanthrope whose mother supposedly did his laundry!
•Few took Thoreau’s fierce commitments with an unyielding earnestness as much as Mahatma Gandhi did. As per Gandhi, Thoreau’s ‘civil disobedience’ “contained the essence of his political philosophy” A few decades later, Martin Luther King Jr. summarised Thoreau’s ideas on civil disobedience even more succinctly: “The basic aim was to refuse to cooperate with an evil system.”
•These history-changing admirers and students of his words notwithstanding, Thoreau’s loci of investigation, the site of transformative possibilities, remained the individual. Society, unlike for his contemporary Karl Marx, mattered to Thoreau only insofar as it could be used as a tool to aid the individual’s fullness of being. To this end, Thoreau’s life was dedicated towards improving his own mind and morals.
•He did so by the studying an astonishing variety of books, through an investigation of nature around him, and by understanding his own ethical commitments. All three aspects took inspiration from the religious literatures of the East, particularly India. Thanks to his neighbour and friend, the great writer Ralph Waldo Emerson, Thoreau discovered the Bhagavad Gita and Samkhya Karika . These texts prodded an already sensitive young man towards a contemplative and observation-filled way of living.
•Thoreau’s willingness to see himself as a devotee of Nature’s omnipotence led him to oppose two key forces of his times: one, the expansionist instincts of America’s nascent industrial powers, and two, the overbearing omnipresence of the Christian church. The former led him to till the soil for the saplings of the anti-capitalist, deep-ecology movements that would sprout nearly a century later with Rachel Carson. As for the Church and its claims, Thoreau had little use for it.
•Nature was the one true God he worshipped and his own writings and sweat in its service were one true offering. Thoreau’s life was dedicated to discovering the world as it truly was — a world of sensations and sentiments shorn of ornament, machines, or even history. He, like the rest of us, probably didn’t succeed. But, his efforts teach us that if we wish to witness this unconcealment, a small hut by a lake can contain the world itself. We only need to learn to see it.

The exchange game

Maybe we should learn to admire and celebrate this so-called corruption in all its multi-hued glory
•Perhaps we have to start looking at ourselves a bit differently as a nation and a society. As any therapist will tell you, it helps a lot when you lose your delusions about yourself, see yourself in a different light, and start to register and process how other people see you. It’s only when you recognise your own problems and patterns that you can start to address them, to move away a bit from the internal distress those tics and traits, that repetitive behaviour, can cause. There is, of course, no ‘complete cure’ for one’s neuroses but there can at least be an attenuation, the reaching of a place from where you can manage and contain the problems.
The economy of power
•In this regard, I keep remembering something a friend pointed out many years ago. Though armed with a cosmopolitan education and a fully internationalised mind, this friend comes from a solidly rural, agricultural area and one day he asked me a simple question: “Why does everybody have a problem with corruption?”
•A slightly shocked laugh escaped me. “What? What do you mean? Corruption is bad. It rots our systems. It unfairly props up the rich and powerful. It forces the poor to stay poor, uneducated and subservient.”
•My friend was unmoved by this series of banalities. “No, I mean why do we even call it corruption? In the village, you trade and barter lots of things outside the official money economy and this thing, what we call corruption, is just our politicians and officials enacting our core nature, which is to trade whatever you have for maximum advantage. So, if you’re in a position of power, it’s completely natural that you will trade that power for some profit. This is who Indians are. It’s in your nature, whether you’re a village havaldar , a district collector, a judge in chhota court or big court, Chief Minister or Prime Minister. Other societies like tennis or badminton, we’re addicted to the thrill of the exchange game.”
•As I spluttered, my friend carried on. “And what is this strange notion the British established of corruption being bad? They founded their whole empire on the deepest corruption and then they made it illegal for us to be corrupt? Why? They leveraged what they had to gain an entire subcontinent and then to manage their little jagir they changed the rules! Why should we, as an independent country, pay any attention to their false laws and restrictions? We needed to create our own economy of power and we have. Of course it’s unfair to the poor but that’s the way life is, everywhere in the world.”
•The landscape changes depending on where you’re standing. The more you change your survey points, the better you understand a terrain. Similarly, when looking at yourself, you need to change your vantage point from time to time. So, it’s possible to look at our seventy years of Independence as a series of succeeding corruptions, or, if you like, a series of asymmetrical exchange games between different centres of power.
•Maybe we should say to ourselves: “Our nation is comprised of a million ongoing corruptions, some dying, others being born, like the cells of a human body, and that’s actually alright.” Maybe if we accept this, we wouldn’t feel so bad when this scam or that scandal is brought to light.
Shrug and carry on?
•Maybe we would just shrug and carry on, without undue guilt or self-loathing. “Oh? That billionaire got an unfair tax break for so many trillion rupees? Big deal. Happens. Chalo, aagey badho .” “ Achcha , so that Chief Minister’s name is in some bribe payment diary for so many crores? So? Big deal. What’s the cricket score?”
•Another useful shift would be that we widen the meaning of the word ‘corruption’ well beyond the narrow usage implying hera-pheri with money or land or some kind of wealth. People can also be corrupt in terms of political or religious power, without necessarily accumulating the trappings of dhan-daulat. Maybe what churns someone’s engine is not a flashy watch or fine clothes or a loaded Swiss bank account, maybe what really makes them ecstatic is watching a whole State or even a whole nation of 1.3 billion dance to their tune, jump up and down as their whims decree. Maybe that’s a thrill that money just can’t buy, or let’s say it’s one that can’t be bought only with money. Maybe partly fuelling that spiking pleasure is the knowledge that you have dealt, exchanged, lied and laughed and leveraged your way to the top of the ladder against all odds.
•Maybe we should learn to admire and celebrate this so-called corruption in all its multi-hued glory. Maybe we should study it and appreciate it fully, because this corrupt power addiction can rule over us in all sorts of guises, today using the name of Ram, tomorrow perhaps Ramrod in military fatigues, the day after under some red AK-47 flag, and the day after that under some snake-oil brand from the ‘Free Market’. Rather than fake yoga or Cow Urine Studies, maybe this is what our universities should be teaching.
Taking it in one’s stride
•Maybe we should be coaching our children in this art, pointing out the U-turns of our leaders with gasps of pleasure the way other societies point to great footballers changing direction and dribbling past opponents. Maybe we should learn to recognise and love the fact that we are a nation of conniving, duplicitous, double-dealing, back-stabbing, principle-free, ethics- mukt liars.

All lined up on the shelf

How you organise your books is both a deception and a revelation
•With summer drawing to a close, and holiday reading hopefully done, an item on most to-do lists is likely to be organising (or reorganising) our bookshelves, perhaps even whittling down our collections to fit on our limited shelf space. And since most of us hopefully are not given to tidying guru Marie Kondo’s drill, the reorganisation amounts to revisiting vital questions about our reading selves.
•For the record, here’s Kondo’s diktat from her bestselling The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up : put all your books on the floor, pick up each in your hands one by one, and see “whether or not it gives you a thrill of pleasure when you touch it”, and thereupon decide whether you want to keep it or not. I don’t mean to be judgmental, but I don’t know any reader who would find this remotely convincing.
Composing one’s self
•A more useful, and enormously thought-provoking, guide is Unpacking My Library: Writers and Their Books by Leah Price, a professor of English literature at Harvard. “To compose a bookshelf is to compose a self,” she writes in the introduction, and seeks out 13 writers to tease out clues about the self they expose through the organisation of their bookshelves. The result, captured along with lavish photographs in this 2011 publication, is an invitation variously to pry voyeuristically into these writers’ shelf space, to form a profile of their deliberative selves, and to pick up lines of questioning to interrogate ourselves.
•For instance, she asks the writer and critic Lev Grossman, “What proportion of the books that you read do you own — and what proportion of the books that you own have you read?” He doesn’t keep books that he knows he will never read, he tells her, while reckoning he’s read a “high proportion” of the books he does have. Novelist Junot Diaz, however, sets the bar rather more high. Everything he owns, he says, will eventually be read, adding: “But naturally I buy more than I can read, so there is always a hundred-book margin between what I own and what I’ve read. What is cool is that I’ve caught up a couple of times…”
•Which books on his shelves has he not allowed her to photograph, Price asks James Wood, novelist and book critic at The New Yorker . “I have a separate bookshelf for ‘unread books I want to read sometime soon,’” he replies, touching on the guilt many of us have that makes us hoard unread books in unseeable spaces.
•On a dilemma most readers or book owners have, he preaches a “generous selfishness”: do not lend a book to a friend, just give it, as “you will never get it back”. And, on another question that divides readers, he owns up not just to writing extensively in his books but also to dog-earing. Grossman may cite his book-reviewing commitments while admitting to scribbling even in first editions, but Wood says he writes notes, to-do lists, emails and phone numbers in the endpapers.
•His wife, Claire Messud, whose novels include The Emperor’s Children , is more ambivalent about owning books, likening her tendency in midlife to accumulate books to the smoker’s two-packs-a-day habit, one that is best broken for one’s well-being. She says: “At one time, collecting books that were my own, feeling I had my own intellectual and literary trajectory visible before me, seemed necessary and meaningful.” While sorting through one’s books and reading lists, this is an appraisal readers often forget about, to examine the arc of one’s life so far and identify the stretches when reading has mattered inordinately more.
•With novelist Gary Shteyngart, Price brings up another subject that divides readers: the smell of books. Shteyngart is “big on sniffing books”, saying the old Soviet ones remind him of “tomato soup in a cheap Soviet cafeteria”. (He was born in Leningrad.)
•There is, of course, a faint suspicion of being witness to a well-considered performance as these writers run through their organising principles for their libraries, their rough-and-ready tips on giving, receiving, lending books, their neat lists of their top 10 books, their capsules of their reading evolution. Ask a friend or the next person at the checkout desk at your library about any of this, and chances are the answer will not come in such a coherent whole. But then that is the biggest deception, isn’t it, to think that one’s reading self can be so cohesively profiled? So, as Kondo suggests, do put all your books on the floor — but only to place them right back on the shelves to find not how each gives you a thrill, but how the process of reassembling helps you know yourself a bit more.

A new mission for Mr. Modi

India’s drinking water crisis is nearing flashpoint
•I wouldn’t be surprised if Prime Minister Narendra Modi feels that he is running out of things to do at the moment. After all, the economy is ticking along nicely, the Goods and Services Tax (GST) has been rolled out, the Nifty has crossed the 10,000-point mark, Uttar Pradesh is won, Bihar is done and dusted, Rajya Sabha majority is pretty much in the bag and even the Gujarat wobble seems like getting sorted before the next election there. So, what next?
•He might want to turn his attention to a problem which tends to get ignored by policymakers and planners in general, and disappears from the political radar with the first sign of good rains — water.
•The problem is underfoot, literally, and hence out of mind. India is running out of water resources — principally groundwater resources — at an alarming rate. According to a recent study by the American Geophysical Union, the upper Ganges basin — home to more than half of India’s population — could run out of groundwater resources by 2050.
Wastage of rainwater
•It is not as if this is because India doesn’t get enough rain. India’s average annual rainfall is over 1,100 mm. But studies estimate that of the total available water, more than a quarter is lost to just evaporation and run-off losses. Less than a fifth of the rainwater actually gets used — nearly half simply flows out to the sea. The infrastructure to trap and conserve this rainwater either doesn’t exist or is so poorly maintained that capacities are usually a third to a half more than what is actually available.
•With growing urbanisation putting an ever-increasing pressure on the already creaky infrastructure, the problem is fast getting out of hand. According to statistics tabled by the Urban Development Ministry, in India’s six largest cities, water supply ranges from a low of half an hour per day in Hyderabad to a high of nine hours per day in Kolkata. But due to ramshackle infrastructure, most of this is lost in leakage. Consumption is still pretty low — averaging between 78 to 116 litres per capita per day. At least 22 of India’s 32 biggest cities face acute water shortage, with Jamshedpur, with a demand-supply gap of 70%, being the worst hit.
•With civic administrations failing to deliver, private enterprise has stepped in. Tanker supply has taken the place of piped water supply. And since almost all of this tanker water is tapped from groundwater sources, this has meant tremendous strain on groundwater resources. India extracts an estimated 257 cubic km of water from the ground every year — more than the U.S. and China combined.
•In peri-urban India, this has meant an alarming drop in water tables. In south India, which has perennially battled weak monsoons and consequent water shortages, an explosion of groundwater extraction has driven the water deeper into the ground, with nearly 30% of available groundwater accessible only at depths of more than 60 metres. In Chennai, for instance, where over 100 million litres of water per day is sourced by the Chennai Metropolitan Water Supply Board, the city’s water utility, from farms and deep borewells, this is leading to rising conflict between urban and peri-urban and rural populations over water, with farmers from areas surrounding Chennai taking to the streets in protest.
•Meanwhile, policies lag behind by decades. The biggest thrust of governments remains on developing surface irrigation infrastructure, despite the known inefficiencies of this system. In unlined irrigation canals, the loss through seepage and evaporation is 40% — and this is before the water even reaches the field. And, in the field, most Indian farmers still prefer traditional watering systems of full flooding or border or furrow flooding, where another 40% of the water gets lost. In fact, though India nominally uses 83% of available water for irrigation and only 5% for domestic consumption, infrastructure issues and usage inefficiencies mean that both urban and rural water consumers face acute shortages, and see each other as the villains.
Rainwater harvesting
•The solution is simple. We need a two-pronged approach to solving our water crisis. One, we need to change our focus away from building more inefficient large dams and wasteful irrigation projects and towards conserving the rainfall bounty we get through rainwater harvesting techniques.
•Two, we need to improve efficiencies in agriculture. A mere 10% improvement in irrigation efficiency can solve the drinking water problem of our cities. And the technology is already available. Micro and drip irrigation, with the help of sensor-based technologies, can raise efficiency in water usage to up to 90%. Along with this, we need to rationalise water pricing. Water is badly mispriced in India, with neither the agricultural, industrial or urban consumers paying anything like a realistic price for water.
•This is where the Prime Minister comes into the picture. Only he has the ability to sell a grand vision, the political muscle to cut through differences between the Centre and the States and the focus to actually deliver outcomes in a finite time frame. And this needs to be done in mission mode. Now.

England’s mental health experiment

Sparks global interest in its goal of a primary care system for all of Britain
•England is in the midst of a unique national experiment, the world’s most ambitious effort to treat depression, anxiety and other common mental illnesses.
•The rapidly growing initiative, which has got little publicity outside the country, offers virtually open-ended talk therapy free of charge at clinics throughout the country: in remote farming villages, industrial suburbs, isolated immigrant communities and high-end enclaves. The goal is to eventually create a system of primary care for mental health not just for England but for all of Britain.
•At a time when many nations are debating large-scale reforms to mental health care, researchers and policymakers are looking hard at England’s experience, sizing up both its popularity and its limitations. Mental health-care systems vary widely across the Western world, but none has gone nearly so far to provide open-ended access to talk therapies backed by hard evidence. Experts say the English programme is the first broad real-world test of treatments that have been studied mostly in carefully controlled lab conditions.
•The demand in the first several years has been so strong it has strained the programme’s resources. According to the latest figures, the programme now screens nearly 1 million people a year, and the number of adults in England who have recently received some mental health treatment has jumped to 1 in 3 from 1 in 4 and is expected to continue to grow.
•Mental health professionals also say the programme has gone a long way to shrink the stigma of psychotherapy in a nation culturally steeped in stoicism.
•“You now actually hear young people say, ‘I might go and get some therapy for this,’” said Dr. Tim Kendall, clinical director for mental health for the National Health Service. “You’d never, ever hear people in this country say that out in public before.”
•A recent widely shared video of three popular royals — Prince William, Prince Harry and Kate, Duchess of Cambridge — discussing the importance of mental health care and the princes’ struggles after their mother’s death is another sign of the country’s growing openness about treatment.
What data shows
•The enormous amount of data collected through the programme has shown the importance of a quick response after a person’s initial call and of a triage-like screening system in deciding a course of treatment. It will potentially help researchers and policymakers around the world to determine which reforms can work — and which most likely will not.
•“It’s not just that they’re enhancing access to care, but that they’re being accountable for the care that’s delivered,” said Karen Cohen, chief executive of the Canadian Psychological Association, which has been advocating a similar system in Canada. “That is what makes the effort so innovative and extraordinary.”
•The programme began in 2008, with $40 million from Gordon Brown’s Labour government. It set up 35 clinics covering about one-fifth of England and trained 1,000 working therapists, social workers, graduates in psychology and others.
•The programme has continued to expand through three governments, both ideologically left and right leaning, with a current budget of about $500 million that is expected to double over the coming few years.
•Patients also do simple, real-world experiments, to see if feared consequences materialise.
•The biggest challenges may be those created by runaway demand. Therapists are booked solid; some are juggling 25 clients at a time, and the line to get in the door is long, creating the same complaints about waiting lists that the National Health Service has for many medical services and procedures.NYT

Indian IT supports 4.5 lakh RCEP jobs

The sector, however, faces issues due to curbs on movement of professionals for short-term work
•Indian IT-Business Process Management (BPM) sector is supporting close to half a million jobs in 15 Asia-Pacific nations that are in negotiations for a mega-regional Free Trade Agreement (FTA).
•This is in addition to the sector accounting for 3.5 million jobs in India — which is also part of the proposed mega FTA, officially known as the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) involving, thereby, a total of 16 Asia-Pacific countries.
•However, the Indian IT-BPM industry — despite supporting so many jobs and investing billions of (U.S.) dollars in the RCEP region – has been facing a host of problems, including restrictions on movement of professionals for short-term work, according to industry body Nasscom.
•This was stated by Nasscom in a presentation made by its senior director (global trade development), Gagan Sabharwal on July 25 before a gathering of the RCEP industry groups. The trade negotiators were later shown some highlights of the presentation.
•The RCEP technical-level negotiations were held during July 18-28 in Hyderabad, where India made a strong pitch for liberalisation of services, including norms to ease temporary movement of professionals across borders.
•The Nasscom presentation showed the Indian IT-BPM sector supported 4.54 lakh jobs in 15 RCEP countries (excluding India) and made investments worth “several thousand millions of (U.S.) dollars across the (RCEP) region.”
•Of the 4.54 lakh jobs, 1.72 lakh (or about 38%) were direct jobs while 2.82 lakh (or about 62%) were indirect jobs.
‘Several restrictions’
•Nasscom, however, pointed out the Indian IT-BPM sector was subjected to several restrictions in the RCEP region on temporary movement of professionals.
•These included trouble in getting visas (Singapore), increase in minimum salary levels for foreign short-term workers (Singapore and Australia), mandatory police clearances and hike in visa costs (Australia), lack of country-wide validity of visas (China), job quotas (Indonesia), requirement of legalised marriage certificates (Philippines).
•It further said the “irritants” for business visa travellers included the requirement of minimum bank balance (Philippines), very short-duration single entry visas (China), requirement of original invite letter with certificate of incorporation of the invitee (Japan), mandatory work permit for stay of over 15 days (Indonesia).
•On the suggestions from the Indian IT-BPM industry regarding the broad contours of an “RCEP Services Visa / Work Permit’, Nasscom said visa or work permit should be given to skilled resources for short duration (up to 3-5 years) for all intra-company related movement. There should be time-bound fast-track immigration clearance and easier expat registration, it said.
•There should be no conditions including caps, quotas, levies and charges, it said, and argued against onerous measures such as certifications from end-consumer.
•Also, there should not be any requirement of contribution to the host social security regime if the applicant shows proof of continuing association with the home country regime, the apex body said.

IGIB researchers rein in cancer cells

Controlling the level of telomerase can probably prevent cancer metastasis
•Researchers at Delhi’s CSIR-Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology (CSIR-IGIB) have found the mechanism by which controlling the levels of telomerase can help in reining in the growth of cancer cells and probably prevent cancer metastasis. The results were published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry.
•Unlike normal cells, most cancer cells have high levels of telomerase and this leads to more than normal length of the telomere. Telomeres protect chromosome ends somewhat like the plastic clips at the end of shoelaces that prevent fraying of the ends. While cells die when the telomere becomes shorter beyond a certain limit, in the case of cancer cells the length of the telomere is maintained thereby ensuring extended life span of the cells.
•In normal cells the telomerase is kept under tight control. But in about 85% of all cancers the telomerase levels are more than normal leading to malignant transformation and aggressive metastasis in many cases. “It is not clearly understood how telomerase is kept under tight control in normal cells and how the telomerase levels gets increased in cancerous cells,” says Dr. Shantanu Chowdhury from the Genomics and Molecular Medicine Unit at IGIB and the corresponding author of the paper.
•It is already known that when the amount of a particular protein that suppresses the spread of cancer (metastasis) called nonmetastatic 2 (NME2) is high the tendency of the cancer to spread is low. But what came as a surprise is the role of this protein in controlling the telomerase levels as well. “How NME2 controls metastasis is not clearly understood. But surprisingly we found that NME2 controls the levels of telomerase,” Dr. Chowdhury says.
The mechanism
•The researchers found that NME2 binds to a DNA structure (G-quadrauplex) found in the telomerase promoter. Once bound, the NME2 facilitates a well known suppressor of gene expression (REST complex) to bind to the telomerase promoter and control the production of telomerase.
•“Experiments show that if you don’t have NME2 then the REST suppressor cannot bind to the telomerase promoter and control the production of telomerase,” says Dhurjhoti Saha from IGIB and one of the first authors of the paper.
•“We used proteomics approach to study the protein-protein interactions. We could identify protein members of the REST complex that interact with NME2. The IGIB team then confirmed the role of the REST complex and its function,” says Dr. Ramesh Ummanni, from the Centre for Chemical Biology at the CSIR-Indian Institute of Chemical Technology (CSIR-IICT), Hyderabad and a co-author of the paper.
Drug target
•“We established that the DNA structure (G-quadrauplex) could be a possible drug target once we understood the mechanism of NME2 binding to the promoter followed by the REST suppressor complex,” Dr. Chowdhury says. The involvement of a DNA structural architecture allowed the team to use small molecules that recognised the specific structure.
•Since the amount of NME2 is low in many metastatic cancerous cells, the researchers used small molecules that were able to function like NME2 by recognising and binding to the DNA structure. “We screened 20 molecules and 11 were able to bring down the telomerase level in fibrosarcoma cancer cells,” Dr. Chowdhury says.
•Based on the initial lead from the small molecules, the researchers are planning to synthesise new molecules to optimise for drug-like characteristics for therapeutic use. The molecules will then be tested on animals.

J.D. Hooker, Indian plants and the unexplored Himalayas

We should pause and reflect on the current status of the documentation of India’s amazing plant wealth
•Sir Joseph Dalton Hooker, one of the greatest explorers of the nineteenth century, and the closest friend of Charles Darwin, was 32 years old when, in 1849, he visited the then remote kingdom of Sikkim in the Eastern Himalaya. Over a two-year period, he travelled widely in the Darjeeling-Sikkim Himalaya and described over 3,000 species of plants for the tiny state of Sikkim, 7,096 square kilometre in size.
•After Hooker returned to England he went on to write, over a 25-year period, the seven-volume Flora of the British India —the first and still the only authoritative account of the plants of the vast sub-continent. June 30, this year, marked Hooker’s 200th birth anniversary.
•While celebrating the bicentenary of Hooker’s birth and his enormous contribution to the documentation of biodiversity in one of the hottest global hotspots of biodiversity, we should pause and reflect on the current status of the documentation of India’s amazing plant wealth, the pace of global environmental change that is impacting this plant wealth, and the prospects for sustainability in the Himalaya, particularly the Eastern Himalaya, where Hooker conducted his most notable studies that led to the compilation of the flora of a vast region.
•It is questionable if the pace of cataloguing life in India or South Asia has advanced very much since Hooker’s time. The descriptions of many plant genera on which Hooker worked still remain incomplete. Hooker, for example, wrote to Charles Darwin about the taxonomic status of Impatiens: “I took down the most difficult genus of Indian plants I could think of to work at:—viz. Impatiens of which there are just 100 Indian species! I have made the first draft of a monograph of them…” (J.D. Hooker to Charles Darwin, December 2, 1857: https://cudl.lib.cam.ac.uk/view/MS-DAR-00104-00178/3). Since the pioneering work of Hooker, species of Impatiens from the entire Himalaya or India have not been fully catalogued.
•Hooker’s exploration of the Indian sub-continent was very limited. He could visit only a small part of the huge sub-continent. In present-day India alone, the genus Impatiens, for example, is now known to contain more than twice the 100 or so species estimated by Hooker: the British India at the time of Hooker included Pakistan, Bangladesh and Myanmar. New species of Impatiens from the Himalaya are being described every now and then. Thus, further work is necessary to fully document India’s incredible diversity of plants, especially from the unexplored regions of the Eastern Himalaya.
Stupendous effort
•It is interesting that Hooker single-handedly organised the effort to write the flora of a sub-continent, extraordinarily rich in species. British India at Hooker’s time perhaps had more than 25,000 species of flowering plants. Hooker described about 16,000 of these species. With modern digital and other tools, and a sound infrastructure for field work that Hooker could not dream of, Indian scientists have a great opportunity to complete Hooker’s unfinished task, and to produce a complete, modern authenticated list of India’s plants.
•The neglect of plant exploration in India, particularly in the Eastern Himalaya, where Hooker began his professional career, is ironic. The Eastern Himalaya, along with Hengduan Mountains, matches the Andes that include the lowlands of South America, as among the world’s richest centres of plant diversity. There are thousands of economically important species, many such as rhododendrons, orchids, poppies, primroses and, of course, Hooker’s balsams (Impatiens) of immense horticultural significance. Many species remain to be discovered: despite the lack of systematic exploration, from 1998 to 2014, according to the World Wildlife Fund, India, 375 species of new plants were discovered in the Indian part of the Eastern Himalaya.
Changing landscape
•At the same time, the Himalaya is changing rapidly. When Hooker visited Darjeeling and Sikkim, he writes in his Himalayan Journals that he could see dense forests all around him. These forests now exist as a patchwork of fragments, and are threatened by a host of factors such as expanding populations, infrastructure development (roads and hydropower) and climate change.
•There is thus an urgent need to conserve remaining biodiversity and the associated ecosystem services, particularly in the light of a recent report about the world wide “annihilation” of the biological world, also termed as the sixth mass extinction. Our country, for instance, has lost more than 50% of the populations of many of our large mammals.
•This decimation of life is particularly ironic when many species are yet to be discovered, and when the evidence is mounting that nature provides us with a host of economic benefits that we had not thought of before. Take for example a recent, widely publicised, study that shows that economic flows from six selected tiger reserves range from US$128 million to US$271 million per year.
•A commitment to fully document the richness and the value of life in the Himalaya for the benefit of our society might be the best way to celebrate the birth anniversary of one of the greatest plant explorers of the world.
•Kamal Bawa is Distinguished Professor of Biology at the University of Massachusetts, Boston and the President of the Bengaluru-based Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment (ATREE). R Ganesan is a Fellow at ATREE. The views expressed are their own.
Tackling obesity in mice
•A study published in Cell identified two new populations of cells in the brain that regulate appetite and may help develop drugs to treat obesity by controlling hunger signals.
•Researchers located through whole-brain imaging, the two types of cells in a part of the brainstem called the dorsal raphe nucleus (DRN) that becomes activated in hungry mice.
•Subsequent imaging of other mice that were fed more than their normal amount of food, until they were full, revealed a different pattern of DRN activity. These results indicated that neurons in that part of the brain played a role in feeding behaviour.
•They then determined which of the neurons were involved.
•Genetic analysis of the activated cells showed that the neurons triggered by a full belly released glutamate, while the neurons triggered by hunger released a different neurotransmitter, known as GABA.
•Researchers were able to turn on the glutamate-releasing cells in obese mice. This suppressed the animals’ food intake and made them lose weight. It also confirmed that the DRN neurons turned on by hunger did indeed drive food intake.
•Similarly, flipping on the GABA-releasing neurons in the same part of the brain had the opposite effect and increased food intake.
•Turning on the “hunger neurons” automatically turned off the “satiety neurons,” maximising the effect, researchers said.

A device to test infants’ field of vision

Accurate quantification now possible
•An advanced device to measure the field of vision of infants has been developed by scientists at L.V. Prasad Eye Institute, Hyderabad. The device, named pediatric perimeter, can be used to test the eyesight of infants between two and 12 months. Currently, there is no specific perimeter device to measure the field of vision in infants. As a result, most of the eye defects arising during infancy get detected only in adulthood.
•The pediatric perimeter helps to measure the area of vision and also the reaction time of infants. The innovation was recently published in Translational Vision Science and Technology.
•Most doctors and optometrists use a crude way of assessing visual fields by bringing bright toys from the side of the eye to the centre and see if the infant is attracted.
•While there is no accurate quantification when such methods are employed, the use of pediatric perimeter addresses this shortcoming. Besides infants, the device can also be used on patients with special needs where testing using conventional perimeters is not possible.
Testing method
•The device consists of a hemispherical dome fitted with LEDs in all directions which are controlled using a computer program. The infant is placed inside the dome in the lying down position. The baby’s eye and head movements when the LED is switched on randomly are monitored by an infrared camera mounted on the top of the dome. The test takes only 6-10 minutes .The reaction time (time taken for the infant to look at the LED after it is switched on) measured helps identifying infants with developmental delay — healthy infants react within 380 milliseconds and those with developmental delay took 663 milliseconds.
•To measure the area of vision, the LED was switched along the dome starting from the left and right sides to the centre, and also from front to back. The infants gaze was monitored by the camera and the degree of eye movements along with the reaction time was calculated to identify visual field defects. Many neurological factors can cause impairments in the vision of an infant.
•The device was validated using adults with normal vision and those with glaucoma and retinal defects.
•“The device is the result of collaborative effort of optometrists, ophthalmologists, engineers and designers from all over the world at Srujana Center for Innovation at the institute,” says Mr. Koteswararao Chillakala, Embedded Systems Engineer from the Srujana Centre for Innovation at L.V. Prasad Eye Institute, Hyderabad in an e-mail to The Hindu.
•“Few patients with squint eye realise their visual field defect only when they come for cosmetic correction. It is therefore essential to test infants and address their visual defects as early as possible,” explains Dr. PremNandhini Satgunam, Associate Research Optometrist at L.V. Prasad Eye Institute, Hyderabad.

The Hindu Notes 29th July 2017

Scientists set sail to unlock secrets of lost continent

Investigation of samples taken by drilling into rock will help discover how Zealandia has behaved over millions of years
•Scientists are attempting to unlock the secrets of the “lost continent” of Zealandia, setting sail on Friday to investigate the huge underwater landmass east of Australia that has never been properly studied.
•Zealandia, which is mostly submerged beneath the South Pacific, was once part of the Gondwana super-continent but broke away some 75 million years ago.
•In a paper published in the Geological Society of America’s Journal GSA Today in February, researchers made the case that it should be considered a new continent.
•They said it was a distinct geological entity that met all the criteria applied to Earth’s other continents, including elevation above the surrounding area, distinctive geology, a well-defined area and a crust much thicker than that found on the ocean floor.
Large landmass
•Covering five million square kilometres, it extends from south of New Zealand northward to New Caledonia and west to the Kenn Plateau off Australia’s east.
•Drill ship Joides Resolution will recover sediments and rocks lying deep beneath the seabed in a bid to discover how the region has behaved over the past tens of millions of years.
•The recovered cores will be studied onboard, allowing scientists to address issues such as oceanographic history, extreme climates, sub-seafloor life, plate tectonics and earthquake-generating zones. Co-chief scientist Jerry Dickens, from Rice University in Texas, said the region was a vital area to study changes in global climate.
•“As Australia moved north and the Tasman Sea developed, global circulation patterns changed and water depths over Zealandia fluctuated,” he said. “This region was important in influencing global changes.”
•Australian National University’s Neville Exon said the two-month expedition would also help better understand major changes in the global tectonic configuration that started about 53 million years ago.
•This is around the time that the Pacific “Ring of Fire”, a hotspot for volcanoes and earthquakes, came into existence.
Hidden from view
•In the February scientific paper, lead author Nick Mortimer said experts had been gathering data to make the case for Zealandia being a continent for more than 20 years.
•But their efforts had been frustrated because most of it was hidden beneath the waves.
•“If we could pull the plug on the oceans, it would be clear to everybody that we have mountain chains and a big, high-standing continent,” he said.

Building block of life found on Saturn’s largest moon

Researchers analyse data on Titan from the Cassini mission
•An important building block of life has been discovered in the hazy upper atmosphere of Saturn’s largest moon, Titan. Using data from the Cassini mission, scientists identified negatively charged molecules called ‘carbon chain anions’ in the atmosphere of Titan.
•These linear molecules are understood to be building blocks towards more complex molecules, and may have acted as the basis for the earliest forms of life on Earth, scientists said.
•The discovery of the carbon chain anions is surprising because they are highly reactive and should not last long in Titan’s atmosphere before combining with other materials.
Hazy atmosphere
•It is completely reshaping current understanding of the hazy moon’s atmosphere, they said.
•The detections were made using Cassini spacecraft’s plasma spectrometer, called CAPS, as it flew through Titan’s upper atmosphere, 950 – 1,300 kilometres above the surface.
•The data shows that the carbon chains become depleted closer to the moon, while precursors to larger aerosol molecules undergo rapid growth. This suggests a close relationship between the two, with the carbon chains ‘seeding’ the larger molecules that are thought to fall down to, and deposit on, the surface.
•“We have made the first unambiguous identification of carbon chain anions in a planet-like atmosphere, which we believe are a vital stepping stone in the production line of growing bigger, and more complex organic molecules, such as the moon’s large haze particles,” said Ravi Desai, a PhD student at University College London.
•“This is a known process in the interstellar medium — the large molecular clouds from which stars themselves form — but now we have seen it in a completely different environment, meaning it could represent a universal process for producing complex organic molecules,” said Desai, lead author of the study published in the Astrophysical Journal Letters .
Exoplanet possibility
•“The question is, could it also be happening at other nitrogen-methane atmospheres like at Pluto or Triton, or at exoplanets with similar properties?” he said.
•Titan boasts a thick nitrogen and methane atmosphere with some of the most complex chemistry seen in the solar system.
•It is even thought to mimic the atmosphere of early Earth, before the build-up of oxygen.

Fight against terror, BRICS told

Meets Chinese President Xi Jinping along with other NSAs
•National Security Adviser Ajit Doval has called upon the Brazil-Russia-India-China-South Africa (BRICS) grouping to exercise international leadership in countering terrorism, in tune with the growing role of the emerging economies in setting the global agenda. During his opening remarks on Friday at the seventh BRICS meeting of National Security Advisers, Mr. Doval, without referring to any country, urged the BRICS countries “to show leadership in countering terrorism.”
•He also advocated that the five emerging economies should work towards setting the agenda “on strategic issues of regional and global importance.” Later, accompanied by the security chiefs of other BRICS members, Mr. Doval called on Chinese President Xi Jinping.
•Mr. Xi, in his address to the BRICS NSAs, praised them for building a mutual trust and cooperation among the member nations.
•Though the meeting was meant to iron out the security agenda of the BRICS summit, slated for September, Mr. Doval’s call on Mr. Xi acquired a bilateral context in view of the Doklam face-off.
Doval wants BRICS to fight terrorism
•Though the meeting was meant to iron out the security agenda of the BRICS summit, slated for September, Mr. Doval’s call on Mr. Xi, acquired a sharp bilateral context, in view of the on-going military face-off between Indian and Chinese troops in Doklam plateau area.
•President Xi said that having successfully completed its first 10 years, the BRICS in the coming decade can focus on three areas: security communication and coordination, financial cooperation as well as cultural exchanges. He added that these three aspects should guide the BRICS mechanism, to enable the stable growth of the five emerging economies.
•Mr. Doval, in his earlier remarks, proposed that the BRICS should pull its collective weight in shaping the international system, by pointing out that the grouping had grown in “global significance over the years.”
•“It is natural we should hold a BRICS forum to discuss security issues that impact global peace and stability.” Along with seeking common ground on major security threats with its emerging economy partners, India also appeared simultaneously engaged in resolving military tensions with China, during Mr. Doval’s visit.
Contradictory ties
•The contradictory relationship, where collaboration co-exists with serious differences, was evident when Mr. Doval met with China’s State Councillor Yang Jichei on Thursday evening.
•The Xinhua news agency reported that in the three separate meetings that he held with the visiting NSAs, Mr. Yang exchanged views on “bilateral relations, international and regional issues and multilateral affairs, and set forth China’s position on bilateral issues and major problems.”

SC rejects abortion plea of 10-year-old

It would be in the interest of neither the rape victim nor foetus, says court; calls for State-level boards to hear urgent cases
•A 10-year-old rape victim has been left with no choice but to continue with her pregnancy after a medical panel informed the Supreme Court on Friday that an abortion will endanger both the girl and her 32-week-old foetus.
•On July 24, a Bench led by Chief Justice of India J.S. Khehar had directed doctors from P.G.I., Chandigarh, to medically examine the girl and file a report in court on whether the “health of the girl child concerned, who is stated to be of the age of 10 years, and also that of the foetus, would be adversely affected, if the pregnancy is continued for the full term”.
•In a short hearing, the court perused the report filed by the doctors in a sealed cover and denied permission for an abortion.
•“In view of the reasons recorded, it would neither be in interest of the girl child nor her foetus of 32 weeks to order abortion,” the court observed.
Permanent boards
•But the Bench went on to urge the government, represented by Solicitor General Ranjit Kumar, to consider setting up permanent medical boards across the States so that women, especially child rape victims, could receive expedient access to medical care.
•The Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act of 1971 bars abortion if the foetus has crossed the 20-week mark. An exception to the law is made if a registered medical practitioner certifies to a court that the continued pregnancy is life-threatening for either the mother or the baby.
•Presently, women are forced to undertake the cumbersome process of approaching different courts, from district courts to high courts and finally the Supreme Court, for permission to medically terminate their pregnancies which are over 20 weeks.
•The frequent number of such cases which have come to the Supreme Court range from child rape victims to destitute women to women with substantial foetus abnormalities.
•“In all such cases, time is very short. We are considering those cases under Article 142 (orders passed by the apex court to do complete justice). Can a permanent medical board be set up at State-level to examine the cases till the Bill is pending for amendment into the law?” the Bench asked Mr. Kumar.
Amendment pending
•An amended Bill of the 1971 law which extends the bar from 20 to 24 weeks has been in the cold storage for the past three years. This draft Bill allows women, whose pregnancies are within 24 weeks, reproductive rights in consultation with their medical practitioners. The draft Bill also allows abortion beyond 24 weeks in case the foetus suffers from substantial abnormalities.
•As of now, women who have crossed the 20-week limit need a judicial order to even get medically examined on their plea for abortion.
•In the case of the 10-year-old, a Chandigarh district court had refused to let the victim undergo abortion on July 18.
Time lost
•Subsequently, the PIL petition by advocate Alakh Alok Srivastava for medical termination of her pregnancy was urgently mentioned in the Supreme Court on July 21. The child was medically examined only on July 26 on the orders of the apex court. She was allegedly raped by her maternal uncle. An FIR has been registered.

Most private hospitals evade tax: CAG

No process to track non-filers in Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Delhi, says report
•A performance audit of India’s private hospitals has revealed that a majority of the institutions is evading tax. The report by the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG), released on Friday, pointed out that data on ‘non-filers’ of income tax was available only in three states — West Bengal, Assam and Gujarat.
•The auditors found that Delhi, Kerala, Rajasthan and Tamil Nadu had no process of identifying hospitals that were evading tax.
•“The detailed list of non-filers along with action taken thereof could be furnished in respect of West Bengal, Assam and Gujarat only, where out of 18,333 cases, Income-Tax Department had closed 3,627 cases and the remaining 14,706 cases were “under verification/action pending” or were yet to be closed. Audit found that no such process of identification on non-filers through a monitoring system existed in Delhi, Kerala, Rajasthan and Tamil Nadu,” the audit said.
•The private sector accounts for 80% of out patient care and 60% of in patient care in the country. According to State-wide data from the Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion (DIPP), the health sector attracted Foreign Direct Investment of Rs. 23, 169.91 crore between April 2000 and September 2016. Yet, the report states that most private hospitals and practitioners did not submit valid Permanent Account Numbers (PAN).
•In West Bengal, out of 19,822 registered practitioners, PAN registration of only 4,849 cases could be traced.
Unjustified exemptions
•In Maharashtra, a study of charitable hospitals — that avail a tax exemption — found that private hospitals availed “unjustified exemptions” amounting to Rs. 249.66 crore involving a revenue impact of Rs. 77.14 crore.
•On the basis of data from Charity Commissioner in Mumbai, the CAG analysed 10 trust hospitals and found that none of them fulfilled the conditions of Bombay Public Trust Act. “Bed occupancy in eight out of 10 hospitals was less than the mandated 10% for weaker sections,” the report added.

CAG spots weaknesses in missile defence system

70% scanners in Air Force bases are ‘non-functional’
•The strategic missile system, a medium range supersonic surface to air missile system to counter aerial threats were “deficient in quality”, according to a report tabled by the Comptroller and Auditor General in Parliament on Friday.
•Over 70% of the under vehicle scanners (UVS) installed at Indian Air Force (IAF) bases were non-functional, the report said. It also said that the IL series of aircraft, which provides vital transport support to the IAF during contingencies, “has not been upgraded, and continue to fly with 1985 vintage avionics”.
•The report comes amid increased threat perception to defence installations in the wake of terrorist attack at the Pathankot airbase in January 2016.
•The IAF in February said that out of the 57 UVS systems, 52 had been installed and only five were yet to be installed.
•However, 35 systems still remained in “unserviceable condition”.
Not enhanced
•“Even as on February 2017, over 70% of the procured UVS systems were not functioning or were uninstalled. Thus the security systems procured at a cost of Rs. 17.09 crore could not be utilised fully for the security of the air bases even after about five years. Besides, the security of the air bases could not be enhanced as envisaged,” the report said.
•“Strategic missile system is vital for the country’s air defence and deterrence capability. Audit found that the system delivered by Bharat Electricals Limited was deficient in quality,” the report added.

‘Scheme for banks not applied as envisaged’

Recapitalisation norms not met: CAG
•The Centre’s ‘Indradhanush’ scheme to recapitalise public sector banks (PSBs) based on their performance was not implemented in a manner envisaged, according to a report by the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG)
•According to the CAG report tabled in Parliament on Friday, as per the scheme, a portion of the recapitalisation was to be based on the bank’ performance. However, this was not followed during disbursal of funds.
Rising NPAs
•The CAG report said gross NPAs with PSBs had risen sharply in recent years, from Rs. 2.27 lakh crore as of March 31, 2014 to about Rs. 5.4 lakh crore at the end of March 2016.
•The parameters used to determine whether banks required capital changed from year to year and in some years the rationale for capitalising banks was not even recorded. The audit report said the scheme’s target of raising Rs. 1.1 lakh crore from the markets by 2018-19 was not likely to be met.
•“Audit noticed that the estimation of the parameters based on which capital was infused altered from year to year and often within different tranches of the same year,” the report, an audit of bank recapitalisation efforts by the government between 2008-09 and 2016-17, found.
•“Audit also noticed that in some cases the rationale for distribution of GOI capital among different PSBs (Public Sector Banks) was not on record.”
•The report added that said some banks that did not qualify for additional capital as per the decided norms, were infused with capital, and in some cases, banks were infused with more capital than required.

Centre seeks inputs on trade, industrial policies, services

Academia has to do research in emerging areas: Sitharaman
•Commerce Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Friday sought inputs from the academia on three topics — Foreign Trade Policy (FTP) review, the proposed revamp of manufacturing and industrial policies and India’s proposal at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) on services sector liberalisation.
•Delivering the convocation address at the Indian Institute of Foreign Trade (IIFT), Ms. Sitharaman said she would like to receive inputs from the students and faculty as soon as possible on the FTP 2015-20 so that a comprehensively reviewed FTP can be released by September.
•In the backdrop of the Centre working on a new manufacturing and industrial policy to increase the contribution of the manufacturing sector in the country’s GDP to 25% by 2020 from the current level of about 16%, the Minister said as the (global) Industrial Revolution 4.0 is happening, the country needs more research on this emerging area showing how Artificial Intelligence (AI), robotics and Internet of Things (IoT) will impact India’s manufacturing and services.
•It is learnt that India’s new manufacturing and industrial policies will bring manufacturing and services closer to ensure an increase in the contribution of services to manufacturing. Since India is already a part of many ‘global value chains’, the two new policies will aim to make India a global manufacturing hub in items including textile, pharmaceuticals and electronics. The Centre is working on these new policies to align the current manufacturing policy (of 2011) and the industrial policy (of 2009) with the Fourth Industrial Revolution that includes AI, robotics and IoT.
TFS pact
•Referring to India’s proposal at the WTO on a Trade Facilitation in Services (TFS) Agreement for easing norms, including on movement of foreign professionals and skilled workers across borders for short-term work, Ms. Sitharaman said during a recent visit to the WTO headquarters, she was informed that the TFS proposal was gaining traction. She said, therefore, the Centre for WTO Studies at the IIFT and others from the academia should contribute on what more can India do in the area of global services trade.
•In her address, Commerce Secretary Rita Teaotia said, “India needs to generate good quality manpower in large numbers at all stages of the knowledge pyramid if it has to become globally competitive in the manufacturing sector.” She said many policy-level challenges have retarded growth in the manufacturing sector in India.
•These include, among others, difficult business environment, infrastructural constraints, including peak power deficit, labour market limitations including a surfeit of labour legislation(s) and trade unionism as well as the difficulty in availing commercial bank credit particularly for small firms.
•Earlier, Ms. Sitharaman said a new campus of IIFT will be opened soon in Kakinada (Andhra Pradesh).

‘Regulators shouldn’t restrain innovation’

Sandbox approach needed to help nurture fintech: Kant
•India’s financial sector regulators should stop hindering ideas in the financial technology sector and instead opt for a regulatory sandbox approach to nurture innovative financial technology applications, Niti Aayog CEO Amitabh Kant said on Friday.
•“It is very important that we allow technology to move forward and the regulators don’t become restrictors, which very often they do, but become facilitators and creators,” Mr. Kant said, stressing that the role of India’s regulators needed to evolve as they often became restrictors of growth.
•A regulatory sandbox is an experimental oversight mechanism for innovative products and services that do not fall into an existing regulatory regime or cut across traditional regulators’ domains. Such innovations are permitted to operate for a limited period of time at a limited scale to understand their efficacy and implications, so that the best alternatives for regulation can be evolved based on concerns that emerge.
‘Consumer-centric lens’
•“The sandbox needs to be designed to adopt this unified consumer-centric lens through a single integrated sandbox, serving all four financial sector regulators… technology will always be ahead of regulation,” said Mr. Kant, speaking at a CII event on making India a global fintech hub.
•He was referring to the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), the Securities Exchange Board of India (SEBI), the Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority of India (IRDAI) and the Pension Fund Regulatory and Development Authority (PFRDA).
•“The (sandbox) option can be a great way to unlock innovations for mass public adoption, because a regulatory sandbox balances the twin objectives of nurturing financial innovation and safeguarding consumer interests,” the Niti Aayog CEO said.
•Stressing that there are over 600 start-ups in the country in the financial technology (fintech) space, Mr. Kant said that letting them operate in a ‘live, but controlled environment with some regulations relaxed… will provide a solid evidence base’ on their strengths and weaknesses.
•More than 30 of those start-ups are focused on the peer-to-peer lending space alone and their market potential is expected to reach $5 billion by 2020. Several start-ups are working in areas such as virtual currencies like Bitcoins, Blockchain-based settlements and so on. The total fintech market in India is estimated to be worth $8 billion and is expected to grow to about $14 billion by 2020.
•“With more than $17 billion funding and over 1,400 deals in 2016, FinTech is one of the most promising sectors globally. With nearly $270 million funding in 2016, India is ranked amongst the top ten FinTech markets globally,” said a CII-Deloitte report on the subject released on Friday.
•Globally, regulatory sandboxes have been introduced in the U.K., Singapore, Australia, Malaysia and UAE. Each country has a certain “target group” for which sandboxing is done. All these countries have so far created a sandboxed environment to support financial institutions (FIs) and fintech firms, the report noted.
Cryptocurrencies
•In India, for instance, since cryptocurrencies are not recognised officially, virtual currencies stored in e-wallets are exposed to hacking and users are exposed to a lack of recourse in case of any problems or disputes. The RBI has been cautioning users about the risks of dabbling in virtual currencies that it does not recognise, since 2013.

Cinema & censorship

Sadly, the battle for free expression is having to be fought so often these days
•In a system that sets much store by retaining the power to censor films in the name of certifying them, random attempts by petitioners seeking cuts or even a ban often add to the pre-release anxieties of filmmakers. While rejecting the petition filed by a person claiming to be the daughter of the late Sanjay Gandhi to set aside the certificate granted to Indu Sarkar , a film directed by Madhur Bhandarkar, the Supreme Court has rightly banked on a well-established principle that freedom of expression cannot be curtailed without a valid reason. It has reiterated that the film is nothing but artistic expression within the parameters of law and that there is no warrant or justification to curtail it. Earlier, the Central Board of Film Certification, which under its present director, Pahlaj Nihalani, has not exactly distinguished itself, had granted a certificate to the film after suggesting 14 cuts. The Revision Committee had reduced the number of cuts, leaving nothing to be adjudicated as far as the suitability of the film for exhibition is concerned. Yet, a single individual managed to create some uncertainty over the release of the film by approaching the courts. The film relates to events set during the 1975-77 Emergency and, going by the director’s disclaimer, its factual content is limited to 30%. Apart from the expression of concern by some Congress functionaries, there was little to suggest that anyone would take seriously the claim that the party’s leaders may be convincingly shown “in a bad light”.
•Recent experience suggests that the CBFC does not always see itself as a certifying authority, but rather plays the censor quite merrily. In the case of Udta Punjab last year, it was seeking to be the guardian of Punjab’s honour against the depiction of the high prevalence of drug addiction in the State. The Bombay High Court had to remind the CBFC that certification, and not censorship, is its primary role and that its power to order changes and cuts must be exercised in accordance with constitutional principles. More recently, the CBFC sought to play the moral censor with regard to Lipstick Under My Burkha , a film it thought was too “lady-oriented” to be given a certificate, presumably because it depicts their fantasies. The Film Certification Appellate Tribunal had to intervene to secure the release of the film, with an ‘A’ certificate. These instances demonstrate that challenges to freedom come from both within the systemic framework and outside. It is a matter of satisfaction that the courts prefer to protect the right to free expression rather than entertain excuses such as maintenance of law and order and public tranquillity, or someone’s sense of hurt or the fear of someone being portrayed in a bad light. It is disconcerting, nonetheless, that the battle for free expression is having to be fought so often these days.

The state’s domain

The proposal to allow the private sectorto run district hospitals has its risks
•The potential of India’s district hospital system to dramatically expand access to quality secondary and tertiary health care has never really been realised. The majority of patients today use the facilities created mostly by for-profit urban hospitals. That asymmetry could potentially be offset, though only in small part, through the proposal of the NITI Aayog and the Union Health Ministry to allow private entities to use the premises of the district hospitals to provide treatment for cardiac and pulmonary diseases and cancer. Viewed in perspective, a quick scaling-up of care for such non-communicable diseases is possible under the arrangement, because there are 763 functional district hospitals, with just five States led by Uttar Pradesh accounting for over 42% of the facilities. Yet, contracting out services in a virtually unregulated and largely commercial private system is fraught with risks. One major concern in such an arrangement is to ensure that the bulk of health spending, whether from government funds, subsidy or private insurance, goes into actual care provision, and that administrative expenditure is capped under the contract. Moreover, in consonance with the goal to provide health for all under the National Health Policy, care should be universal, and free at the point of delivery. A market-driven approach to providing district hospital beds for only those with the means would defeat the objective.
•Providing 50 or 100 beds in a district hospital may expand access to care, but such arrangements do not offer a cure for the larger problem of the growing non-communicable disease burden. Lifestyle choices and social determinants, such as tobacco and alcohol use, and environmental pollution, are often linked to such diseases. Controlling the epidemic, therefore, requires other policy approaches too. Given the already high prevalence of cardiac and pulmonary conditions, some arising from diabetes and hypertension, and cancers, having more beds for treatment is a necessity. It is incongruous, however, to opt for contracts of 30 years, given the move towards achieving universal health coverage and, aspirationally, a single-payer government-led model that mainly relies on public facilities. Strong oversight is also necessary to ensure that ethical and rational treatment protocols are followed in the new facilities, and procurement and distribution of drugs are centralised to keep costs under control. Ultimately, the success of such systems depends on medical outcomes on the one hand, and community satisfaction on the other. Both dimensions must find place in a contract, and be assessed periodically. A provision for audits, penalties and cancellation of contracts is essential. Given the recourse to tax funds for viability gap funding and use of public infrastructure, the operations should be audited by the Comptroller and Auditor General.

Not just a question of weeks

Parliament needs to take up the long-pending bill on updating provisions for abortion
•On Friday, the Supreme Court of India declined the abortion request of a 10-year-old rape survivor who was reportedly 32 weeks pregnant. Doctors who examined the adolescent opined that an abortion at this stage posed a risk to her life. Under the circumstances, the court could not have done much else. But this decision must be looked at in contrast to the recent landmark decision by the Supreme Court allowing an adult mother to abort her over-20 week foetus. The top court’s decision was not the first time that it had made an exception from the existing law. Like always, it relied on a report of a medical board which said that the infant was likely to suffer from a severe mental injury or cardiac problems that would require multiple surgeries. As is evident, leniency is not always extended from the existing legislation.
An arbitrary cap
•The Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act stipulates a cap of 20 weeks within which an abortion can be performed. While advising an abortion, medical practitioners are expected to evaluate whether continuing with the pregnancy would involve a risk to the life of the mother or cause grave injury to her physical and mental health. Alternatively, the decision is based on whether there would be a substantial risk of the child being handicapped by physical or mental abnormalities. Notably, the Act also provides that if any of these medical eventualities is likely to arise, then the mother’s actual or foreseeable environment must also be taken into consideration.
•The 20-week cap is somewhat arbitrary and has drawn rightful criticism. Foetal impairments often get detected at the ultrasound done between 18 to 22 weeks, when the foetus is said to have “substantially developed”. But in a country where a majority of expectant mothers still seek advice from midwives and Accredited Social Health Activists (ASHA), ultrasounds are only done when something “unusual” is suspected. Perhaps taking note of this, the government, in 2016, launched the Pradhan Mantri Surakshit Matritva Abhiyan under which doctors at private and government facilities are required to provide free antenatal care on the ninth of every month. While ultrasounds are also covered, some ASHAs report that free ultrasounds are often not offered.
•In fact, even before this programme, the government, in 2014, introduced the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (Amendment) Bill. A step forward, it proposed increasing the abortion ceiling limit from 20 to 24 weeks. It introduced the concept of “substantial foetal abnormalities” — in which case the time period of pregnancy is irrelevant — and widened the scope of who could carry out the abortions by introducing the term “registered health care provider”, which included recognised practitioners of Ayurveda, Unani and homoeopathy.
•Unfortunately, the Bill is still awaiting approval. The Prime Minister’s Office is reported to have returned the proposed amendments and called for stricter implementation of the law. It believes that amendments to the Act are likely to give rise to illegal sex selection and abortion rackets.
Downside to legal restrictions
•In contrast, the World Health Organisation notes: “Legal restrictions on abortion do not result in fewer abortions nor do they result in significant increases in birth rates. Conversely, laws and policies that facilitate access to safe abortion do not increase the rate or number of abortions. The principal effect is to shift previously clandestine, unsafe procedures to legal and safe ones. Restricting legal access to abortion does not decrease the need for abortion, but it is likely to increase the number of women seeking illegal and unsafe abortions, leading to increased morbidity and mortality. Legal restrictions also lead many women to seek services in other countries/states, which is costly, delays access and creates social inequities.”
•The WHO report also says that “laws and policies on abortion should protect women’s health and their human rights. Regulatory, policy and programmatic barriers that hinder access to and timely provision of safe abortion care should be removed.” While at present, petitions questioning the constitutional validity of the Act are pending before the Supreme Court in India, in the past, provisions of the Act have been held to be reasonable restrictions placed on the exercise of reproductive choices. The court has observed that in the case of pregnant women, there is also a “compelling state interest” in protecting the life of the prospective child. Therefore, the termination of a pregnancy is only permitted when the conditions specified are fulfilled.
•But from a women’s rights perspective, should not a pregnant mother have the right to decide whether to go through full-term when there is even the slightest chance of a foetal infirmity and not “substantial foetal abnormalities”? It is fair to state that no woman who voluntarily chose to get pregnant is likely to seek an abortion unless there are compelling circumstances. Should not the wishes and desires of the person who will be the caretaker be considered?

•Abortion the world over is a sensitive topic. Arguments cut both ways. Each country has its own time limit within which the pregnancy may be terminated, but in most cases it’s more than 20 weeks. Given the advancements in medical science, a lot of abnormalities can be determined by an ultrasound midway through a pregnancy. Unfortunately, there appear to be no guidelines relating to the conduct of ultrasounds. As a starting point, we need uniformity in medical standards. Simultaneously, the long-pending Bill, which took into account some of the changed circumstances, needs to get passed. It would be helpful alongside to also lay down objective standards to be followed by health-care providers so that every case does not fall in the court’s cradle. If the cord isn’t cut, we will continue to rely on court-ordered termination of pregnancies, which, most times, is not the desired route for the delivery of justice in abortion cases.

The Hindu Notes July 28, 2017

Two C-130J aircraft arrive at Bengal IAF station

Part of eastern squadron and not linked to Doklam: officials
•While the standoff with China continues in Doklam, the Air Force Station at Panagarh in Bardhaman district of West Bengal has got its first set of the U.S.-made C-130J Super Hercules multi-skilled transport aircraft.
•Two of these aircraft manufactured by Lockheed Martin have arrived recently, while the station — named after Marshal of Air Force Arjan Singh — is awaiting the arrival of four more within a month. The six medium-lift capability C-130Js will complete the first squadron of such aircraft in eastern India.
•Senior Defence Ministry officials did not want to connect the arrival of the aircraft with the Doklam standoff, and described it as the “fruition of an old plan”.
•The giant aircraft are described as one of the finest transport aircraft which can perform many duties simultaneously. The fuel-efficient aircraft can carry up to 40 tonnes; can move faster; and provide between crew comfort than the Ilyushin-76 (IL-76), a Russian-made aircraft the Air Force had been using for a long time. While the IL-76 could also carry 40 tonnes, it was a “fuel guzzler”, a senior Army official said.
•The C-130Js will be used by the Special Forces and a division of the Mountain Strike Corps, recently raised by the Army. The Corps has two divisions, instead of the usual three, with a strength of 80,000 personnel. One of the divisions will be stationed at the Panagarh station once it is fully raised. The first squadron of C-130Js was stationed at the Hindon airbase in Ghaziabad and performed its first landing exercise in 2013 at the Daulat Beg Oldi military base in Ladakh, adjacent to the Chinese border.
‘Fruition of old plan’
•“When the first batch of six C-130Js came to the country, it was envisaged that a second squadron would also come. This is the fruition of an old plan,” a senior Defence Ministry official said.
•The C-130Js can land on unpaved surfaces, para-drop special forces, and move faster fast with equipment and goods. It can return quickly to the base to dispatch the next team. Its movement and manoeuvrability is perhaps the reason the U.S. forces used the transport aircraft extensively in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Doval holds talks with Chinese counterpart
Expectations of de-escalation of crisis
•National Security Adviser Ajit Doval on Thursday held talks with Chinese State Councillor Yang Jichei, covering “bilateral issues and major problems,” signalling that the stand-off in Doklam between Chinese and Indian troops in the Sikkim sector was likely on the agenda.
•Referring to the three NSAs of the BRICS countries, who are in the Chinese capital, the official Xinhua news agency said: “[Mr.] Yang also separately exchanged views with the three senior representatives on bilateral relations, international and regional issues and multilateral affairs, and set forth China’s position on bilateral issues and major problems.”
•Minister of State for External Affairs M.J. Akbar, speaking in the Rajya Sabha, highlighted the agreement reached in June in Astana between the countries to intensify “development partnership” and “people-to-people contact,” even as External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj said India had not discriminated against Chinese companies.
•Mr. Akbar, responding to a question regarding China’s recent denial of visa to a group of journalists to Tibet and the remedial measures being taken to defuse the Doklam stand-off, said the two countries had agreed to work together.
•Ms. Swaraj maintained that despite commitment to improve bilateral ties, India had not hesitated to protest whenever differences arose with China about issues like stapled visas for Indian citizens from Arunachal or the visit of Dalai Lama to Tawang. She, however, maintained that India remained open to Chinese companies. “There is no policy to deny China [business opportunities],” she said to a question.
 SC for panels to examine dowry cases
Set up ‘family welfare committees’ in all districts under NALSA, says Bench
•Committees of social workers, homemakers, retired persons and other upstanding citizens will form the vanguard against frivolous complaints of dowry harassment in their localities.
•They will sift the genuine cases from the trivial ones. No suspect shall be arrested in a dowry case immediately after a complaint is registered.
•Police and the courts will have to wait for the committee’s inquiry report. The Supreme Court on Thursday ordered the setting up of ‘family welfare committees’ in all districts under the aegis of the National Legal Services Authority (NALSA).
Much abuse
•A Bench of Justices A.K. Goel and U.U. Lalit said Section 498A (dowry harassment) of the IPC had come under much abuse. Dowry complaints were being filed in the heat of the moment over trivial issues.
•The three-member family welfare committees will be set up by the district legal services authorities. Members can be appointed from para legal volunteers, social workers, retired persons, “wives of working officers” and other citizens.
•Every complaint received by the police and the Magistrate will be passed on to the local committee, which will enquire into the genuineness of the complaint and file a report with the police official or Magistrate concerned within a month. The committee can directly get in touch with the parties involved, but the members will not be called as witnesses in case there is a trial.
•Till the report of the committee is received, no arrest should normally be effected, the court said.
•Trial judges should close Section 498A cases based on matrimonial disputes once parties reached a settlement. In fact, bail should be given the same day, the court directed.

Privacy built into Aadhaar Act, says UIDAI

It was responding to concerns raised by Supreme Court Bench about personal data landing in the hands of private players
•“Privacy is non-negotiable, confidentiality is non-negotiable under the Aadhaar Act,” the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), the nodal agency implementing the Aadhaar scheme, has said in the Supreme Court.
•Additional Solicitor-General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the UIDAI, made this emphatic claim on Thursday when apprehensions were raised by a nine-judge Bench that personal data collected during Aadhaar enrolment might make its way into the hands of private players, for whom such details would transform into “vital commercial information”.
•The court was, in turn, responding to a submission by Attorney-General K.K. Venugopal, appearing for the Centre, that citizens could not claim informational privacy when the state asks for data for a legitimate purpose such as Aadhaar. “There is no denying that it [Aadhaar] is a social welfare scheme, but you [the government] must first concede that the state is obliged to put a robust personal data protection mechanism in place,” Justice D.Y. Chandrachud said.
•“There may be a billion Aadhaar card holders. I don’t want the state to pass on my personal information to some 2,000 service providers who will send me WhatsApp messages offering cosmetics and air conditioners … That is our area of concern. Personal details turn into vital commercial information for service providers. Have you got a robust protection mechanism,” Justice Chandrachud asked.
Fundamental right
•Justice S.A. Bobde wondered whether the Aadhaar Act of 2016 itself had any provisions to protect privacy. Mr. Venugopal then pointed to Section 28 of the statute dealing with “security and confidentiality of information”. It was in the State’s legitimate interest to keep personal data secure as this would make Aadhaar acceptable to one and all, he submitted.
•“So does this mean you do recognise privacy as a fundamental right?” Justice Bobde persisted.
•Here, Justice Rohinton F. Nariman observed that the government had dedicated an entire chapter in the 2016 Act to the protection of privacy and security. “So is this not a statutory recognition of privacy as a fundamental right,” he asked Mr. Venugopal.
•“A law [Aadhaar Act] may specifically provide for the protection of privacy because privacy is not recognised as a fundamental right,” said Mr. Venugopal, turning the judge’s question on its head.
•Justice Chandrachud said informational privacy was the most “vexed” portion of the ongoing debate as parts of personal data were already in the public domain. To this, Mr. Venugopal said informational privacy can never be a part of fundamental rights. There was no informational privacy against compelling state interests and public utility, for which the state can ask for fingerprints. But again, individuals can refuse if the information sought was totally irrelevant,” he said.

 Panel seeks details on AI divestment

Parliamentary Standing Committee on Transport set to meet government officials on Friday
•A Parliamentary Standing Committee has sought details from the government on its strategic disinvestment plans for national carrier Air India.
•The department-related Parliamentary Standing Committee on Transport, Tourism and Culture, chaired by Rajya Sabha Member of Parliament Mukul Roy, is set to meet the Central government officials on Friday.
Hearing views
•“To hear the views of the Ministry of Civil Aviation, Department of Investment and Public Asset Management (Ministry of Finance) and Air India on Disinvestment of Air India,” the agenda of the meeting said.
•The Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA), chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, on June 28 gave its in-principle approval for the strategic disinvestment of Air India and its subsidiaries.
•The CCEA also set up a group of ministers under Finance Minister Arun Jaitley to examine the modalities of the national carrier’s stake sale. The Ministerial group will decide upon the “treatment of unsustainable debt of Air India, hiving off of certain assets to shell company, de-merger and strategic disinvestment of three profit-making subsidiaries, quantum of disinvestment and the universe of bidders.”
•Hours after the Union Cabinet gave its nod for Air India’s strategic disinvestment, India’s largest low-cost carrier IndiGo expressed interest in acquiring the flag carrier’s airline business, mainly related to its international operations. Tata Sons were also said to be reportedly in talks with the government to seek more details about the national carrier’s strategic disinvestment.
‘Fragile finances’
•Minister of State Civil Aviation Jayant Sinha told the Rajya Sabha on Tuesday that the decision to divest a stake in Air India was based on government think-tank NITI Aayog’s recommendations in May this year.
•“In its recommendations, the Aayog had given the rationale for the disinvestment of Air India and has attributed the main reason as fragile finances of the company. AI has been incurring continuous losses and has huge accumulated losses,” Mr. Sinha said in a written reply.
•“Further, NITI Aayog in its report on Air India says that further support to an unviable non-priority company in a matured and competitive aviation sector would not be the best use of scarce financial resources of the Government,” Mr. Sinha added.
Sliding market share
•Mr. Sinha said in the Lok Sabha on Thursday that Air India’s market share on domestic routes had declined to 14.2% in 2016-17, from 17.9% in 2014-15. Air India had accumulated total debt of Rs. 48,876 crore till March 31, 2017. The carrier has been reporting continuous losses due to its high debt with its net loss at Rs. 3,728 crore in 2016-17, compared with Rs. 3,836 crore in 2015-16.

‘Good prospects for India-U.K. auto trade’


High tariff regime retarding sales of British luxury cars in India, says SMMT chief•Britain and India have the potential to expand post-Brexit trade in the auto sector, the head of the body representing British manufacturers said, as exports of U.K.-made cars to India rose 8.3% in the first half of the year, while those of Indian-made cars to the U.K. almost doubled. The 8.3% rise in sales of U.K. cars was driven by increased demand for British-made luxury cars, while the number of India-built cars rose by 48.6%.

•Mike Hawes, the chief executive of the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), said that there were many opportunities for growth in areas such as in the development of autonomous, connected vehicles, as well as in the Indian after-market segment. “The U.K. currently has a negligible part of that market in India, but we have a lot of expertise and there are a lot of products that could be developed,” he said in an interview to this paper in London.

•“We want to develop those relations, but obviously it had to be mutual.” However, he added that the prospect of increasing sales of British-made luxury cars, for which there was great demand in India, remained limited with high tariff regimes still in place and expressed reservations about the potential for changing this. “One would hope so but history would suggest its going to be incredibly difficult,” he said.

•His comments came as the SMMT said U.K. car production fell 2.9% in the first half of 2017, as demand in Britain declined, which it attributed to the current uncertainty around the Brexit negotiations. The industry is also lowering its ambition of producing 2 million cars a year by 2020.

•“The U.K. automotive industry is in particularly challenging times in terms of production, new cars sales and level of investment,” said Mr. Hawes.

Interim arrangements

•The SMMT has been pushing for interim arrangements that maintain access to the single market and customs union to avoid a cliff-edge situation. ‘We are totally integrated with the European automotive industry — the future relationship we have is fundamental to our continued success. We need to maintain the barrier free trade that we currently enjoy,” he said, adding that reverting to WTO termswould be disruptive to the supply chain.

Public health, private players?
Private providers will be able to cherry-pick the lucrative districts where patients have a higher paying capacity
•The NITI Aayog has recently unveiled a grand plan to effectively privatise district hospitals in Tier-I and Tier-II towns. It has developed what it calls a “model concessionaire agreement” for provision of healthcare services for cardiac and pulmonary (lung) diseases and cancers. It is proposed that public facilities in district hospitals would be outsourced to private providers. They would be free to charge full treatment costs from patients not covered by government schemes (such as the Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojana) and the providers would be reimbursed by the government for treating patients referred by the government
Red-carpet treatment
•Private providers will be able to cherry-pick the most lucrative districts where patients have a higher paying capacity. The scheme also provides for an escrow account that would offset the risk to private providers posed by possible delays in reimbursement by the government. Providers would also secure access to public facilities such as ambulance services, blood banks and mortuaries. Clearly no effort has been spared to roll out the red carpet and ensure that private companies are able to freeload on public assets.
•What are the implications for accessible healthcare services? First, the proposal implies that most patients would have to pay for care even in public facilities. The promise that patients covered by government health insurance schemes would access care free of cost needs to be seen in the context of recent surveys which show that just 12-13% of people are covered by public-funded insurance.
•Second, the proposal is designed to further worsen inequity in access to healthcare services. Private providers will concentrate on better-off districts, leaving the poor and remote districts for the public sector to manage. This will further weaken the ability of public hospitals to attract and retain trained doctors and other health workers.
•Third, the scheme will expose thousands of patients to unethical practices by private providers, compromises in quality and rationality of services and additional ‘top-up services’. A specific section in the document on ‘risk management’ is primarily concerned about risks of private providers, with very little about robust mechanisms to protect patients from unethical practices.
•Fourth, outsourcing of hospital care to private providers inevitably becomes increasingly unsustainable over time as they ratchet up demands on reimbursements and fees. The proposal to hive off hospital care to the private sector is justified by the argument that public services are not financed adequately and face an acute shortage of trained human resources.
•The simple remedy could be to significantly enhance investment in public healthcare services, including in the training of health workers. The government’s singular resistance to follow such a path is linked to its ideological moorings, which find virtue in private enterprise and view public services as inherently inefficient. This scepticism regarding public services needs to be tempered by the experience that success stories of public health, in diverse settings such as the U.K., France, Cuba, Thailand and Sri Lanka, are all related to public systems.
•The NITI Aayog’s proposal involves the handing over of public assets to for-profit companies, and represents a clear abdication of duty by the government. The NITI Aayog describes itself as a ‘think tank’, unlike the Planning Commission of yore.
•It is understood that the scheme will be piloted in a couple of districts, presumably in Bharatiya Janata Party-governed States. Health care is primarily a State subject and State governments must first question the legitimacy of a supposed think tank to pronounce public policy.

What’s at stake in Hyderabad

India must counter Japan’s U.S.-style pressure at the RCEP talks and ensure affordable generic medicines
•Leaked texts are like leaked gases — you may never find the one responsible for it, but the mayhem caused by its release is hard to contain. Unsurprisingly, all public discussions on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) are centred around leaked documents. As India negotiates the RCEP — a free trade agreement that looks remarkably similar to the now failed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) but for the absence of the chief protagonist and dissenter, the United States — Japan now appears to be playing the role that the United States is known for: policing the intellectual property (IP) regimes of its trading partners. Unlike the TPP, where India and China were not parties, the RCEP will open two of the world’s fastest-growing economies to new standards of IP protection with some unforeseen consequences.
IP, investment and RCEP
•One of the conditions that have been put forth both in the TPP as well as the RCEP is the formation of an Investor State Dispute Settlement mechanism and to include IP as an investment. Treating IP as an investment would allow private companies to raise investment disputes against the host country whenever they feel that the legal regime does not favour them. These disputes could be initiated by MNCs and especially the pharmaceutical industries that have until now had their hands tied in front of the Indian laws and the judiciary. Japan’s insistence on the inclusion of this clause comes as no surprise as it is the third-largest RCEP investor country. Countries like India and China, which will be the destinations for the investments, should include safeguards against these measures.
•The IP chapter in RCEP is at risk of including provisions far stricter than those mandated by the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS). The leaked IP chapter shows that both Japan and South Korea are mounting pressure to implement a TRIPS-plus regime in IP. Adhering to TRIPS-plus standards would be detrimental to developing countries that have benefited from generic competition and lower-priced medicines through the use of the flexibilities in TRIPS such as stricter patentability criteria and the absence of data exclusivity provisions. The few IP reforms discussed in the RCEP include data exclusivity, patent term extension, and much more lenient criteria for patentability.
•This would mean delay in the entry of generic versions of medicines, extension of patent monopoly for a longer time, and exclusivity for drugs that should not be patented if strict patentability criteria were to be applied. The RCEP negotiations on these fronts spearheaded by Japan appear to be an extension of the arm-twisting that developing countries like India have been repeatedly subject to by the U.S. as reflected in the most recent Special 301 Report released by the U.S. Trade Representative.
•The strong MNC lobby growing in Japan, especially on the pharmaceutical side, is a reason for its insistence on stricter IP rules. An example of this is the drug patented by Otsuka for the treatment of extensively drug-resistant tuberculosis (TB).
•The company has been strategically withholding the registration of the patent in India, thereby preventing a generic version of the drug from being manufactured. In the event that a provision of data exclusivity is passed, the millions of TB patients in India would have to buy the high-priced drugs, which would have no cheaper generic alternative.
MFN clause
•The WTO has a most-favoured-nation (MFN) clause that obliges the concessions offered to the MFN to be offered to others. In essence, if India has an agreement with Japan (through the RCEP), India will be obliged to offer the same concessions to the U.S. as well as the other members of the WTO. The negotiating pattern reflects the reality of international law making. It is evident that developed countries are using FTAs to expand the existing standards of IP.
•At the 19th round of the RCEP negotiations currently on in Hyderabad, India must resist Japan’s U.S.-style pressure in this regard. Developing countries like India which have taken the leadership in instituting and using balanced intellectual property protection for pharmaceuticals should not only proudly protect their laws in the RCEP negotiations, they should also encourage other countries to adopt and use similar measures that ensure generic competition. The international trading system is not an end in itself and instead of adopting U.S. style lobbying on behalf of multinational companies in the RCEP negotiations, Japan would do well to recall its international commitments on health care and sustainable development and support developing countries in the region in their quest to ensure sustainable access to affordable medicines.

The Hindu Notes 27th July,2017

‘Privacy a fundamental but wholly qualified right’

Nine-judge Bench prods AG to make govt. stand clear
•The Centre on Wednesday told the Supreme Court that privacy was indeed a fundamental right, but a “wholly qualified” one.
•This led a nine-judge Constitution Bench headed by Chief Justice of India J.S. Khehar on Wednesday to sum up Attorney-General K.K. Venugopal’s submission thus: “You are saying that right to privacy is a fundamental right. But not every aspect of it [privacy] is a fundamental right. It depends on a case-to-case basis.” Mr. Venugopal agreed to the court’s interpretation of the government stand.
•The acknowledgement from the Centre came after several hours of walking on the very brink of conceding that right to privacy is a fundamental right.
•Earlier, the court kept prodding Mr. Venugopal to make the government’s position clear.
•At one point, Chief Justice Khehar even said that the reference to the nine-judge Bench could be closed if the Centre agreed that privacy was a fundamental freedom.
•“Petitioners had argued that there is a fundamental right to privacy. You [Centre] had stalled them by saying that privacy is not a fundamental right. You quoted our eight and six judges’ Benches’ judgments to claim privacy is not a fundamental right. So, the five-judge Bench hearing the Aadhaar petitions referred the question ‘whether privacy is a fundamental right or not’ to us. Now if you are saying that privacy is a fundamental right, shall we close this reference right now itself?” Chief Justice Khehar asked Mr. Venugopal.
•The Attorney General explained to the Bench that the government did not consider privacy to be a single, homogenous right but rather a “sub-species of the fundamental right to personal liberty and consists of diverse aspects. Not every aspect of privacy is a fundamental right.”
•Some aspects of privacy were expressly defined in the Constitution, while some were not. Mr. Venugopal said there was a “fundamental right to privacy. But this right is a wholly qualified right.”

‘India-Israel ties can affect Al Aqsa conflict’

India must play a positive role: envoy
•India’s friendly ties with Israel could ‘interfere’ with the ongoing Israel-Palestinians conflict over the Al Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem, said the envoy of Palestine on Wednesday. The Ambassador, Adnan Abu Al Haija, termed Israel’s latest security measures in Al Aqsa compound a ‘religious war’ and said Palestine expected a “positive attitude” from the Indian government.
•“India’s present government is friendly to Israel. Previous governments were also close to Israel but this government is particularly so. India’s friendly ties with Israel could interfere with the present situation in Jerusalem,” said the envoy. “The Al Aqsa mosque is an Islamic place of worship. Jerusalem is a city of three religions and we respect all religions.” He, however maintained that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s recent visit to Israel which excluded a visit to the Palestinian territory did not impact ties between two sides.
•The envoy said Israel had been trying to disturb the sanctity of the Al Aqsa mosque for a long time but for the first time since 1967 has begun the Judaisation process of the site which is holy to both Muslims and the Jewish. “The Judaisation campaign of Israel received a serious blow last year when UNESCO declared Al Aqsa mosque compound to be uniquely Muslim. This has infuriated Israel, which decided to go with the latest provocation,” he said.

RCEP: Boost for India on easier visa norms

Some ASEAN nations back bid
•India’s push for easier norms on movement of professionals across borders for short-term work in 16 Asia-Pacific nations, including itself, under a proposed mega Free Trade Agreement (FTA) — is learnt to have found favour with some ASEAN-bloc members.
•The proposed FTA, officially known as the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), is being negotiated by these countries in the Asia-Pacific region.
•The RCEP technical level talks are currently going on in Hyderabad.
Travel card
•A few ASEAN countries are also understood to be supporting India’s proposal for an RCEP Travel Card to facilitate visa-free multiple short-term entry across the RCEP region for business and tourism purposes.
•Official sources told The Hindu that while some countries of the ten-member ASEAN bloc have supported India’s call for detailed discussions to have binding commitments on temporary movement of professionals as part of the RCEP agreement, Australia and New Zealand (who are RCEP members) are blocking the move. “These positions keep changing during the negotiations, but we (India) are trying (to secure India’s interests in the services sector),” an official privy to the negotiations said.
•India, which has a vast pool of services professionals, including from IT/ITeS, sector, had been leading the talks on easing restrictions on temporary movement of professionals.
•Allaying the fears of many RCEP member nations that it would lead to migration of professionals from India and loss of jobs for locals, India has been saying that its demands on temporary movement of professionals and skilled workers should not be confused with permanent movement (or immigration).
•Meanwhile, Indian information technology industry body Nasscom informed the RCEP trade negotiators that the Indian IT-ITeS sector had supported 4.54 lakhjobs in the RCEP region (excluding India).
•Gagan Sabharwal, director, Nasscom, also said the Indian IT sector was facing many problems in the RCEP region with regard to temporary movement of professionals.

India pressed to open up procurement

More RCEP nations seek commitments on market access, equal treatment of foreign and local firms
•Pressure is mounting on India to open up its more than $300 billion-worth public procurement market under the proposed mega Free Trade Agreement (FTA) called the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP).
•Public/government procurement broadly refers to the process by which government (at the Central, State and local levels), its agencies/departments and State-owned enterprises procure goods and/or services only for their own use, and not for sale/resale commercially.
Binding commitments
•Official sources told The Hindu that an increasing number of countries including China, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand as well as a few from the 10-member ASEAN bloc including Singapore and Malaysia, were pushing for binding commitments to mutually liberalise government procurement markets in the 16 Asia Pacific nations, including themselves and India involved in the mega-FTA talks.
•Incidentally, during the ongoing 19th round of the RCEP Trade Negotiating Committee meeting at the technical level being held at the Hyderabad International Convention Centre, the 16 countries agreed to constitute a Working Group on government procurement to take forward negotiations on the topic and include it as a separate chapter in the final agreement, sources said.
•They, however, said India would not give in to the demands from these countries for “market access and national treatment (equal treatment of foreign and local firms)” pertaining to government procurement in the RCEP agreement, and not even undertake any commitment on a “best endeavour basis.” Even in India’s separate FTAs with Japan, South Korea and Singapore (that are already in force), “market access and national treatment” have been kept out of the government procurement chapter. The maximum extent that India could go to, is to agree to ensure transparency and cooperation in government procurement matters (including information exchange and sharing of knowledge) as part of the RCEP agreement, they said.
•Sources said though RCEP member countries including Japan, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand and Singapore may not have a “PSU [Public Sector Unit] culture” as such, they had norms that indirectly made it difficult for foreign firms, including from India, to take part in their public procurement process.
‘Language barrier’
•Countries like China, Japan and South Korea, may outwardly have an open procurement market, but make it difficult for foreign firms to participate by phrasing requirements in local language, sources said.
•This ensures that domestic firms with a grasp over the local language get to submit the documents on time, unlike foreign firms who get hit by the language barrier, the sources said.
•India is not a signatory to the Government Procurement Agreement within the WTO framework because it wants to retain its policy space to meet its development needs through public procurement process. In May, the Indian government had brought out a policy providing preference in government procurement to local goods and services suppliers. This was to push the ‘Make In India’ initiative, ensure greater flow of capital and technology into domestic services and manufacturing, and in turn, boost job creation locally as well as promote small enterprises.
•Then in June, it came up with an order restricting or excluding from public procurement tenders in India, the firms from those nations where Indian suppliers are not allowed to participate and/or compete in government procurement process.

Policy boosts care for blood disorders

Under Centre’s move, people with thalassaemia, sickle cell anaemia to be part of registry
•People living with thalassaemia, sickle cell anaemia and other haemoglobin disorders can now look forward to better screening and treatment, based on the Union Health and Family Welfare Ministry’s new policy.
•The Ministry recently released a policy on the Prevention and Control of haemoglobinopathies in India.
•Supported by the National Health Mission, Blood Cell and the Rashtriya Bal Swasthya Karyakram, the guidelines provide for screening of pregnant women during antenatal check-up, pre-marital counselling at college level and one-time screening for variant anaemia in children.
•The Minister of State (Health and Family Welfare) Anupriya Patel stated this in a written reply in the Rajya Sabha on July 18.
•Thalassaemia and sickle cell anaemia are the most frequently encountered ‘rare blood disorders’ in the country and impose a significant economic burden on families.
•The policy aims at creating treatment protocol benchmarks, to improve the quality of life of patients.
•It is also a guide on prevention and control, which includes antenatal and prenatal testing to reduce the incidence of live haemoglobin disorder births (currently pegged at 10,000-15,000 live births a year).
•Using public health awareness programmes and education, it highlights various haemoglobinopathies. The guidelines include the creation of a national registry to plan future patient services. The registry will also collect useful data, such as the location of patients to identify areas of high concentration, ethnicity or other characteristics, age distribution, records of deaths and their cause.
•Shobha Tuli, president of the Federation of Indian Thalassaemics, who contributed to the policy, said it was a big step to prevent haemoglobinopathies.
‘Provide all drugs’
•“Since not more than 20% of patients can afford treatment, the government should ensure that all patients get it free. Such free treatment is given in States such as Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Odisha and Karnataka besides Delhi, and others should follow suit. All chelation drugs should be made available free because one drug does not suit all,” she said.
•The policy, however, makes no reference to carrier testing for relatives of patients.
•Namitha A. Kumar from the Centre for Health Ecologies and Technology (CHET), who is also living with thalassaemia said people with the genetic disorder unknowingly pass it on to their children, as preventive checks are not the norm in India.
•“In Pakistan, a law making carrier testing compulsory for relatives of thalassaemia patients was passed in February. A similar system is in place in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Saudi Arabia. I wish it could be made compulsory here too,” she said.
•Cecil Reuben Ross, Head of the Department of Medicine and Haematology in St. John’s Medical College Hospital, hailed the policy but said testing had to be voluntary.
•“There is more awareness about the condition now, especially after the Indian Council of Medical Research took up screening of 50,000 antenatal mothers and 50,000 college students a few years ago.
•“Testing cannot be made compulsory and people should opt for it. A concerted effort by people as well as government will help ,” Dr. Ross said.

Panel for action against farmers using herbicides on GM mustard

Anti-GM activists question efficacy of such regulation
•The Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee’s (GEAC) sub-committee has drafted several recommendations on GM mustard before it approved the crop for commercial release in May this year. These included a proposal for legal action on farmers using the glufosinate-based herbicide (Basta) on the crop unless otherwise approved by the Central Insecticides Board and Registration Committee.
•In response to an RTI query, the GEAC has provided minutes of the sub-committee’s May 11, 2017 meeting. The minutes, accessed by The Hindu, reflect an apprehension that farmers may use herbicides to kill weeds that grow in crops of herbicide-tolerant GM Mustard.
Detrimental to humans
•Glufosinate-based herbicides act as a neurotoxin and have adverse impacts on humans, according to the U.S. National Institute of Health.
•To a query on how the GEAC proposes to ensure adherence to its recommendations, GEAC sub-committee member C.R. Babu, also Director of the Centre for Environmental Management of Degraded Ecosystems, University of Delhi, told The Hindu that the Ministry of Environment and Forests was contemplating setting up a system to monitor the planting of GM mustard seeds when commercially released.
Bt cotton lessons
•However, anti-GM activists question how effective such regulation will be, drawing attention to the experience with Bt cotton, the country’s first and only commercially released GM crop. The GEAC had recommended plant refuges wherever Bt cotton was planted to ensure pests did not develop resistance to the Bt toxin.
•“In the case of Bt cotton the government’s record of ensuring adherence to recommendations has been very poor,” said Kavitha Kuruganti, activist and convenor of ASHA (Alliance for Sustainable & Holistic Agriculture).
•On Monday, the Centre submitted to the Supreme Court that it would file its affidavit on its preparedness for commercial release of GM Mustard on July 29. The Supreme Court has asked the government to stay the commercial release of GM mustard until it does so.

‘Bitcoins must be regulated’

The digital currency can be a boon for the country, the report says
•Bitcoins can provide a superior route to encourage digital transactions, a report by PHD Chamber of Commerce and Industry said, adding it is essential to expand the regulatory framework for bitcoins to reinforce safety and security aspects.
•“Arguably, bitcoins can be a boon for the large population of the country which is still unbanked; it can provide them a superior and simple peer-to-peer digital currency trading platform through desktops and mobile devices,” the report, titled Industry Perspective on Bitcoins, said. However, it highlighted the importance of a regulatory framework and awareness programmes about benefits and dangers of bitcoins.

CAC adopts Codex norms for three spices

The standards will ensure availability of high quality, clean and safe spices

•In a significant move, the Codex Alimentarius Commission (CAC) adopted three Codex standards for black, white and green pepper, cumin and thyme paving the way for an universal agreement on identifying quality spices in various countries.

•The CAC cleared these standards at its session held in Geneva recently.

•The adoption of Codex standards for the three spices, it is pointed out, will help evolve a common standardisation process for their global trade and availability.

•“This (Codex standard) will bring harmony to the global spice trade and ensure availability of high quality, clean and safe spices to the world,’’ said Union Commerce Minister Nirmala Sitharaman in a statement.

•“It may be a small beginning considering the number of commodities waiting in the ranks for the standardisation process. But what is really heartening is that spices have made a definitive entry into the league of commodities having Codex standards, and India played a key role in achieving this objective,’’ she added.

‘Food code’

•The Codex Alimentarius or “Food Code” is a collection of standards, guidelines and codes of practice adopted by the Codex Alimentarius Commission. The Commission, also known as CAC, is the central part of the joint FAO (Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations)/WHO (World Health Organisation) Food Standards Programme.

•With the adoption of Codex standards, member-nations would now have reference points and benchmarks to align their national standards for spices with Codex.

‘GST, note ban to boost economy’

•Economic activity is expected to rebound due to a supportive monetary policy, the effect of the Goods and Services Tax, and the eventual formalisation of the economy due to demonetisation, according to a report by Fitch Ratings.
•The withdrawal of cash due to demonetisation had temporarily hurt economic growth in India, it said.
•“Nevertheless, we expect growth to pick up soon, helped by the supportive monetary policy of the previous two years — which was facilitated by a surge in bank liquidity due to demonetisation — and stepped-up structural reforms,” the report added. The report also highlighted uncertainty over the government committing to reducing its debt and the detrimental effect of farm loan waivers on states’ finances.

Questions of age

The SC has done right in refusing to extend POCSO to adults with mental retardation
•The Supreme Court has shown due restraint in declining to apply the provisions of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act to mentally retarded adults whose mental age may be that of a child. It would have been tempting to give a purposive interpretation to the term ‘child’ under POCSO, which refers to those below 18 years of age, and rule that it encompasses those with a ‘mental age’ of a person below 18. It would have been compelling to acknowledge how similarly a child and an adult with inadequate intellectual growth are placed when it comes to sexual assault: both may show the same lack of understanding about the situation they are in and incapacity to protest. No doubt, any expanded definition to encompass both biological and mental age within the POCSO framework would have helped extend its beneficial features to another section of vulnerable persons. The court has chosen the challenging path of analysing the import of such judicial interpretation, along with the question whether expanding the notion of age is within its remit. It has ruled that it is outside its domain. POCSO is meant to protect children from sexual offences. To extend it to adult victims based on mental age would require determination of their mental competence. This would need statutory provisions and rules; the legislature alone is competent to enact them. Judicial conferment of power to trial courts to treat some adults as children based on mental capacity would, in the Bench’s opinion, do violence to the existing law protecting children from sexual offences. It noted that there may be different levels of mental competence, and that those with mild, moderate or borderline retardation are capable of living in normal social conditions.
•The case before the court related to the rape of a 38-year-old woman with cerebral palsy. Her mother was concerned about the absence of a friendly and congenial atmosphere before the trial court. She approached the courts for a direction to transfer the case to a special court under POCSO, a law that mandates child-friendly procedures and features during the trial, taking into account her daughter’s mental age, which she said was that of a six-year-old. In a fateful turn of events, the lone accused died during these proceedings, bringing the criminal case to an end. The implication of the Supreme Court ruling is that the onus is always on trial judges to keep in mind the degree of retardation of victims and their level of understanding while appreciating their evidence. It would be unfortunate if cases get derailed because of either the victims’ inability to communicate effectively or because of the court’s difficulty in understanding their words or gestures. It is now up to the legislature to consider the introduction of legal provisions to determine mental competence so victims with inadequate mental development may effectively testify against sexual offenders.

Privacy in the public domain

The greatest challenge to privacy is from the private sector. It also stems from an indifference to our own privacy
•It is heartening to read the preliminary observations of the Supreme Court, made on July 19, regarding privacy as a fundamental right. Unfortunately, much of the debate on privacy seems to suffer from the leftovers of a certain traditional understanding of privacy and the private. In fact, it is no longer possible to decouple the idea of privacy from the mechanisms through which privacy is guaranteed. Since Aadhaar and many of the contemporary discussions on privacy are related to deep technological developments, the question of privacy should be rethought in the context of these technologies.
Secrecy and security
•Privacy is not a concept like the other fundamental rights. Moreover, our notions of privacy have changed and will continue to change. If there is one major catalyst for this change, it has been technology. Built homes are a simple example of how we develop a sense of privacy which is influenced by a technological development. Once we have a conception of home, we also have conceptions of bedroom, living room, toilet and kitchen. These spaces and conceptions created by very simple processes of technology create specific ideas of privacy.
•Two common ways of understanding privacy are through secrecy and anonymity. We believe that our bank balance must be private. Companies do not normally make public the salaries of all their employees. Universities do not make public the marks or grades of their students in a way that violates the privacy of the student.
•These notions of privacy are based on the need for security and protection. We do not want to divulge certain things about our wealth or life practices since they may be used by others to potentially harm us. So privacy becomes a way of protecting individuals or groups. But we also often overthrow privacy arguments for security purposes. We do not object to giving our biometrics when we apply for visas or when we join some private jobs.
•Contemporary technology has made possible many new innovations that have changed the very meaning and significance of privacy. From smartphones to the darknet, the fundamental trajectory is one to do with privacy. However, there are two worrisome aspects. In any discussion on privacy, there is a deep suspicion of the government and state, most times rightly so. But this suspicion does not extend to technology and its private agents, those that are responsible for the breakdown of the value of privacy today.
•Today, in times of growing privatisation, the greatest challenge to privacy comes from the private sector. It also stems from an indifference to our own privacy. We do not seem to value privacy today as in earlier times. Social experiments have shown that people are willing to have private information about themselves made public if they receive some monetary advantage.
•We do this all the time. When we search for a book or a ticket, we start getting advertisements related to these searches in our supposedly private emails. What we read, search, buy, talk and perhaps even think get stored, used and circulated. Everything is tracked and rerouted. We have no clue to the amount of information about our private lives that is out in the Web. All because we get free emails and free Internet access! Today, privacy has been deeply compromised through the offering of ‘free’ goods.
The state and private players
•Very often when we worry about questions of privacy, it is about the role of the government or the state. The state too can do much with the information on individuals that it collects through various voluntary as well as coercive means. The concern about privacy thus was a concern about potential misuse of such information. However, information about individuals is arguably much more in the private domain today than it is within various governments. Moreover, the mining of this information is taken up far more assiduously by the private compared to government institutions.
•The idea of privacy has always had a troubled relationship with privatisation. Private companies often have rules that protect them from being transparent in hiring policies, in affirmative action or even making public the salaries of all their employees. Private groups know best the power of the idea of privacy. They use this notion to protect themselves from governments and the public. They also realise that the greatest market that is perennially available to them is the market of trading information on privacy.
•A related problem is that the government has begun to look more and more like the private sector. Today, almost all politicians are rich entrepreneurs and hold powerful business interests. The public-private binary does not function in any useful sense as far as the governing class is concerned. Thus, privacy is not only open to manipulation by the government but even more so by the private sector. This is so especially because it is the private sector that is at the forefront of developing technologies that facilitate this mining, storing and sharing of information.
No free lunches
•The Trojan horse through which the state and private players enter our domains of privacy is through contemporary technologies. These technologies have now come to be seen as necessary. The fact that we so unthinkingly buy into this story shows the success of how these technologies have colonised us so effectively.
•The price we pay for modern technologies is not only money. The economic model that runs consumerism of modern technologies is quite different from the model of selling groceries. We are seduced by the amount of free things we get in a technological gadget. The websites are free; we can download millions of books and songs for which we had to pay earlier. Why are we being given so much that is free? Like almost everything else in this world, there are always hidden costs. The major cost that we pay is the cost of our privacy — the information on each one of our private lives and, through this information, more effective control on how we act and behave.
•This raises deeply troubling questions about making privacy a fundamental right. How will the Supreme Court judges be able to give a judgment on privacy as a fundamental right without also making possession, and the making, of technology as ‘rights’? How can they do this without imposing controls on predator technologies that enter the social world in the guise of making our lives comfortable? Some might argue that technology is only an intermediary tool that enables certain things, both good and bad.
•But to hold this view is to be blind to the changing modes of technological domination through digital and Internet technologies. Technology is no longer outside human and social processes; it co-creates and co-constitutes the human and the social.

The Hindu Notes 26th July,2017

China remains a threat: Army

It is expanding its influence in the region, says Vice-Chief of Staff Sarath Chand

•China, with its growing influence in the region, will remain a threat for India in the future, said Lt. Gen. Sarath Chand, Vice-Chief of Army Staff, on Tuesday even as he defended the comment of the Army Chief, General Bipin Rawat, on a “two-and-a-half front war”.

•His comments come in the backdrop of the continuing standoff between the two Armies at Doklam which began on June 16 after Chinese troops tried to build a road in the disputed territory.

•“China is expanding its influence across the Himalayas into our neighbourhood. Despite having the Himalayas between us, it is bound to be a threat for us in the years ahead,” Lt. Gen. Chand said, addressing a joint seminar organised by the Army’s Master General Ordnance and the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII).

•Last month, Gen. Rawat had said that the Army was “fully ready for a two and a half front war” — facing China, Pakistan and dealing with militancy simultaneously.

•Referring to the comments, Lt. Gen. Chand said, “He never meant to whip up war hysteria. He was merely stating a fact that we need to take care and we need to pay more attention to our security.”

Military modernisation

•Talking of China’s rapid military modernisation, he said a large portion of their defence spending remains undisclosed.

•In line with its modernisation, this year China has hiked defence spending to $152 billion, about three times that of India, but the real spend is estimated to be much higher.

On Pakistan

•On Pakistan, Lt. Gen. Chand said being a smaller country with smaller economy, it resorts to a “low-intensity conflict” with India rather than engage in a full-fledged war and said, “That suits its all-weather friend China.”

•He said Pakistan “stooped so low” by targeting schools and inflicting casualties on civilians along the Line of Control, and stated, “This is not something that we would do.”

•Stating that South Asia continues to be one of the most “volatile areas” in the world, he added, “India being at the centre of it is the security provider for this region.”

India rejects OIC move on vigilantism

•India on Tuesday strongly rejected the resolutions of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) that had expressed concern about the recent attacks on people by cow-vigilante groups. An official statement from the Ministry of External Affairs stated that the resolutions adopted at the Organisation’s latest foreign ministers’ meeting were “factually incorrect”.
•“India notes with utmost regret that the Organisation of the Islamic Cooperation, during its 44th Session of the Council of Foreign Ministers , has again adopted certain resolutions which contain factually incorrect and misleading references to matters internal to India, including the Indian State of Jammu and Kashmir, which is an integral part of India. India outrightly rejects all such references,” said the statement.
•The MEA added, “the OIC has no locus standi on India’s internal affairs. We strongly advise the OIC to refrain from making such references in future.”
•The OIC noted that incidents of violence against the Muslim community were being committed by extremist Hindu groups and said it viewed such incidents “with grave concern”.

‘India’s concerns slowing RCEP talks’

Reservations over impact of duty elimination on local firms a key issue, according to Thai trade official

•India’s reservations regarding the potential adverse impact of eliminating duties on its local manufacturing and job creation is understood to be slowing down the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) negotiations.

•The RCEP is a proposed mega Free Trade Agreement (FTA) involving 16 Asia Pacific nations including India and China, and aims, among other things, to liberalise investment norms in the region, besides boosting trade by dismantling most tariff and non-tariff barriers.

•The “slow pace” of negotiations was worrying, Phairush Burapachaisri, vice chairman, Board of Trade of Thailand and Thai Chamber of Commerce, told The Hindu here on Tuesday. “We hear that while most RCEP countries have agreed to quickly eliminate barriers affecting goods trade, India is seeking more time to do so, and that is delaying the negotiations,” said Mr. Burapachaisri, who attended stakeholder meetings held with the RCEP Trade Negotiating Committee on the sidelines of the RCEP negotiations. “The talks have already missed many deadlines and it looks like the negotiators won’t be able to conclude it this year. Asia Pacific is a fast growing region, but trade between countries in the region is affected by several barriers. If RCEP talks are not concluded quickly and these barriers are not eliminated, the region will miss out on many opportunities.”

•Meanwhile, Indian companies and industry bodies, including CII, flagged their concerns. The Centre’s ‘Make In India’ initiative to boost manufacturing and job creation could be hit by a hurried pact, they opined.

Widening trade gap

•Siddhartha Roy, economic advisor, Tata Group, said: “India’s trade deficit [annual] with RCEP nations is about $100 billion, and half of this is with China alone even without an FTA with China.”

•“Post India’s FTA with ASEAN, Japan and Korea [who are all RCEP members], our trade deficit with them have increased, and the government needs to take this into account during RCEP negotiations,” he said. “Eliminating duties under the RCEP will impact many sectors including steel, aluminium, auto-components, many engineering items and readymade garments.”

•CII Trade Policy Committee chairman Deep Kapuria said while many countries were urging greater focus on duty elimination, India ought to highlight the need for removal of non-tariff barriers including those in China.

Govt. may not split Air India for stake sale

Officials fear investors may be put off
•The central government may not sell Air India’s domestic and international operations separately. “We are not willing to go back to the days of Air India and [erstwhile] Indian Airlines, as the disinvestment process may become unattractive,” a senior Aviation Ministry official, requesting anonymity, said.
•This might come as a hurdle to low-cost airline IndiGo’s plan to acquire its international operations.
•“AI’s business cannot be split merely based on an expression of interest from a single private player. If we sell lucrative assets separately, it will make the divestment of the domestic unit and subsidiaries tricky,” the official added.
•The government’s concern is that Air India’s valuation may further take a hit if it hives off Air India into two companies and invites bids for its domestic and international operations.

Zero duty to hit Indian dairy industry: Amul

‘15 cr. farmers will be impacted by FTA’
•The Indian dairy sector, providing livelihood to 15 crore farmers, would be severely hit if import duties on milk and milk products were eliminated under any Free Trade Agreement (FTA) including the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), according to the local dairy cooperative Amul.
•Separately, farmers’ organisations have threatened to hold nationwide protests if the dairy sector is opened up under the RCEP — the proposed mega-regional FTA involving 16 Asia Pacific nations including India — or any other FTA including those proposed separately with Australia and New Zealand.
Risk of cheaper imports
•Jayen Mehta, senior general manager, GCMMF Ltd. (Amul), who participated in a stakeholders meeting with officials negotiating the RCEP agreement here, told The Hindu that it was important for India to ensure that duties on all Indian dairy products were not eliminated or reduced under the FTA, as cheaper imports risked threatening local farmers’ incomes from dairy.
•Significantly, Mr. Mehta pointed out that as against 15 crore dairy farmers in India, there were only 12,000 of them in New Zealand and 6,300 in Australia.
‘Duty offers protection’
•Currently, the duty on milk and milk products ranges from 40% to 60%, which gives the local industry enough protection to build its competitiveness.
•However, if the duty is drastically reduced or eliminated under any FTA, the local industry would find it difficult to compete against producers, particularly from RCEP members like Australia and New Zealand — which control more than 35% of the global dairy trade and in excess of 50% of the intra-RCEP trade, Mr. Mehta said.
•Yogendra Yadav of Swaraj Abhiyan and All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee, said, “Any attempt to open up our milk market to international trade under an FTA shall be resisted by all farmers’ organisations, and we will hold nationwide protests.”

Transfer unclaimed accruals to fund: IRDA

Senior Citizen Welfare Fund to benefit
•Insurance companies can no longer retain unclaimed amounts of policyholders if those accruals are more than 10 years old. Such sums need to be, instead, transferred to the Senior Citizens’ Welfare Fund (SCWF) of the Centre.
•“All insurers having unclaimed amounts of policyholders for a period of more than 10 years as on September 30, 2017 need to transfer the same to the SCWF on or before March 1, 2018,” insurance regulator IRDAI said.
•The direction from the Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority of India has come in the backdrop of the amendment made in April to the Senior Citizens’ Welfare Fund Rules. The amendment expanded the purview beyond the unclaimed amounts in small savings and other saving schemes of the Centre, PPF and EPF.
•It brought in unclaimed amount lying with banks, including cooperative banks and RRBs; dividend accounts, deposits and debentures of companies coming under the Companies Act; insurance companies and Coal Mines PF.
•Minister of State for Finance Santosh Kumar Gangwar had informed the Lok Sabha that unclaimed deposits as on March 31, 2016, with insurers (life and non-life) totalled Rs. 11,725.45 crore, rising sharply from the Rs. 7,227.23 crore in the previous year.
•Details as to how much of the unclaimed amounts was more than ten years were not immediately available. Unclaimed amounts include sum payable as death claim, maturity claim, survival benefit, premium due for refund and indemnity claims.

In the age of data

Without strong data protection laws, privacy as a right will be of little value
•As India awaits the judgment of a nine-member Bench headed by Chief Justice J.S. Khehar on whether privacy is a fundamental right, the moment is ideal for the country to redefine and reconstruct some of the elementary definitions and laws associated with ‘privacy’.
•Here, it is important to look at the issue from both privacy as well as a national security perspectives. The present time period is said to be the ‘age of data’ with private companies — ranging from social media platforms to e-mail services and messaging applications — storing humongous volumes of information, a lot of it outside India’s borders. Both Facebook and WhatsApp have more than 200 million active users in India, with India recently surpassing the United States in terms of the number of Facebook users.
•Data-colonising companies like these use the collected information in myriad ways. Individuals have limited control over how data collected from them are used; in many cases, they do not even have undisputed ownership of their own personal information. Further, the companies’ databases are also under constant risk of cyberattacks. The likelihood of such scenarios has prompted technology evangelists like Nandan Nilekani to press for an immediate creation of stringent data protection laws.
EU regulation
•To protect the privacy of its individual users, the European Union is to implement the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in May 2018. Aimed at harmonising data privacy laws across Europe, it will impose stiff penalty of up to 4% of the company’s worldwide turnover in the event of a breach. Many companies will also have to ensure that even their vendors are fully compliant with the GDPR as a condition for running their businesses. Recognition of privacy as an individual right in India, without similar enforceable regulations, will be akin to raking water up a hill.
•Coming to collection of data by governments and agencies, we need to keep in mind that the Internet and the more virulent Darknet are being increasingly used these days by criminals and antisocial elements for illegal trade, trafficking and money laundering apart from recruitment to various terror outfits like the Islamic State (IS).
•Regulations that impinge on the effectiveness of our intelligence and law enforcement agencies as they battle these challenges would significantly compromise our social harmony and national security.
•Hence, what India needs more is effective data protection laws, along with strong independent watchdog institutions to ensure that the organisations handling our data do not go astray.

For a hygienic track

The CAG report on the railways should compel a quick upgrade of passenger services
•Among the most affordable transport systems in the world, India’s railway network carries millions of people every day, linking the remotest destinations. Yet, in a fast-growing country with rising ambitions, the system is caught in a time warp, unable to scale up its services to global standards and hobbled by inefficient management. Although the rot in passenger services has been repeatedly identified, it has only grown worse. The report of the Comptroller and Auditor General on catering services for the year ended March 2016 provides further evidence that little has changed in the system: food unsuitable for human consumption, contaminated and recycled items, packaged articles past their use-by date, and unauthorised items are sold on trains, all endangering the health of passengers. Such gross violations are all the more glaring because the administration has instituted a mechanism to penalise agencies such as the Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation and invites passengers to file complaints. Evidently, instances such as a Rs.1 lakh fine levied on the IRCTC for the presence of a cockroach in food supplied on the Kolkata Rajdhani Express three years ago have not resulted in any significant reform. Nor has private sector participation in food supply provided a panacea for the problems linked to departmental catering. It is unlikely, therefore, that the recently unveiled catering policy will make a big difference unless the process of identifying caterers, fixing prices, and ensuring quality control is transparent and is monitored by external auditors. Independent oversight can potentially improve other aspects of service as well, such as the quality and maintenance of linen, which the CAG has found to be shockingly substandard.
•The NDA government began its tenure with a focus on modernising India’s creaking railways, and several major announcements have been made, including the setting up of a long-pending Rail Development Authority to recommend tariffs and set standards. In the area of passenger services, any reform has to contend with the ‘open access’ character of rail travel in the country, since coaches are open to unlicensed vendors who sell food, water and other goods. Given the need for employment, it would be pragmatic to broaden the network and enrol more local distributors of certified articles, while implementing the core idea of the IRCTC running modern base kitchens. Audit findings of contractors on railway premises overcharging users and selling packaged food items at prices inflated over the open market are serious, and require immediate resolution. The experience with different models of service on trains in India merits a comparison with France, where unhappy passengers on the popular, high-speed TGV trains wanted public sector catering back a few years ago. Now that the CAG has given an exhaustive critique, it is imperative that the Railway Ministry brings about a visible change through its proposed reforms.

Context of the contest

The role of the President or the Vice President does not extend to articulating a national philosophy of India

•Indian democracy is both rumbustious and fractious. Yet there are moments when contested democracy gives way to broad agreement and the camaraderie of the political class. The election to the posts of President and Vice President is one such occasion.
•On July 25, the newly elected President of India Ram Nath Kovind was sworn in at the Central Hall of Parliament. The function was attended by Members of Parliament cutting across party lines and Chief Ministers who represented different political persuasions. Earlier, last Sunday, a cross-section of MPs attended a touching farewell to outgoing President Pranab Mukherjee, a man associated with Indian parliamentary democracy since 1969.
•Not all those who attended both functions had voted for either President Kovind or President Mukherjee. Apart from one occasion, no choice of President has been unanimous. Though the election of 1969 involving V.V. Giri and Neelam Sanjeeva Reddy was by far the most bitterly contested, most other contests have been symbolic. Unsuccessful candidates have included C.D. Deshmukh, H.R. Khanna, K. Subba Rao, Tridib Chaudhuri, Bhairon Singh Shekhawat and P.A. Sangma — all distinguished individuals who would have made copybook occupants of Rashtrapati Bhavan. However, the mere fact that the presidency was contested didn’t either diminish the office or ensure unending controversy over the person of the Head of State. Regardless of the pre-history of the person who becomes the Rashtrapati, the respect and dignity of that office has always been maintained by all shades of political opinion. Apart from Giani Zail Singh, no President has ever been caught in the cross-currents of partisan politics.
•The reason is obvious. The holder of a constitutional office such as the President or Vice President is not expected to be another battering ram on behalf of the Prime Minister and the ruling dispensation. The Head of State is, above all, expected to adhere to the letter of the Constitution. The only occasion the President can somewhat exercise his discretion is in selecting the Prime Minister in the event of a fractured election verdict.
•As for Vice President, his principal role is that of Chairman of the Rajya Sabha and, by implication, overseeing the function of Rajya Sabha TV. His discretionary powers are limited to showing a little extra indulgence towards some of the more voluble MPs and, perhaps, giving the Treasury benches a little elbow room.
A misplaced debate
•In view of the defined roles for the President and Vice President, Peter Ronald deSouza’s spirited intervention (‘The Vice President’s Mien’, The Hindu, July 24) comes as a surprise. He argues that the forthcoming election for Vice President is, in effect, a “battle between two ideas of what India aspired to be during its struggle for freedom and what India should be.” He backs this up with the assertion that the values imbibed by individuals in a shakha of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh are totally at variance with the tradition of ethics and dharma that underpinned the Gandhian traditions of the national movement, and projects the contest as a rerun of the contest between Mahatma Gandhi and V.D. Savarkar, between an individual nurtured in the shakha that “debilitate(s) the mind” and the “grandson of both Rajaji and Gandhiji.”
•Prof. deSouza’s projection is a more erudite elaboration of former Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar’s claim of her contest with Mr. Kovind being a battle of ideologies. No doubt, he has grave misgivings of the larger political orientation of the Narendra Modi government. However, regardless of our individual characterisation of the government, I am baffled by Prof. deSouza’s claim that this has a bearing on who the MPs choose as the Vice President of India.
•The role of the President and Vice President has been rigidly defined by the Constitution. Fortunately, this role does not extend to articulating a national philosophy of India. If it did, the implications would be quite fearful. If, as Prof. deSouza contends, the battle is between noble and ignoble visions of what India stands for, does it imply that the latter would get short shrift under the Vice President of his choice? Given that the Modi government has a popular mandate until 2019, would the (unlikely) election of a Vice President blessed with both pedigree and dharma be the signal for a breakdown in relations between the Rajya Sabha Chairman and the government?
•The debate that Prof. deSouza has sought to trigger has a place. However, that place is at the hustings of a general election. By injecting this debate into the election of a constitutional post, he is advocating a complete subversion of the democratic political system. A President or Vice President with an agenda of waging a righteous civil war against an elected government belongs in the realms of putschist politics, not democracy.

The crossroads at the Doklam plateau

India must calibrate both its message and military moves to keep Bhutan on track with the special bilateral ties
•There are many strings that tie Bhutan to India in a special and unique relationship, but none are as strong as the ones laid down on the ground: 1,500 km, to be precise, of roads that have been built by India across the Himalayan kingdom’s most difficult mountains and passes.
•Since 1960, when Bhutan’s King Jigme Wangchuk (the present King’s grandfather) entrusted the then Prime Minister, Jigme Dorji, with modernising the country, that had previously stayed closed to the world, those roads built and maintained by the Indian Border Roads Organisation (BRO) under Project Dantak have brought the countries together for more than one reason.
A one-way street?
•“All the new roads [they] proposed to construct were being aligned to run southwards towards India from the main centres of Bhutan. Not a single road was planned to be constructed to the Tibetan (Chinese) border,” recounted one of independent India’s pioneers in forging ties with Bhutan, Nari Rustomji, a bureaucrat who also served as the Dewan, or Prime Minister, of Sikkim from 1954 to 1959, in his book Dragon Kingdom in Crisis . When the Chinese presented a fork in the road, Rustomji said, “with feelers to bring Bhutan within the orbit of their influence”, Bhutan stood firm in “maintaining an independent stand”.
•Just a few years later, during the India-China war of 1962, Bhutan showed its sympathies definitely lay with India, but it still wouldn’t bargain on that independent stand: when Indian soldiers retreated from battle lines in Arunachal Pradesh, they were given safe passage through eastern Bhutan, but on the condition that soldiers would deposit their rifles at the Trashigang Dzong armoury, and travel through Bhutan to India unarmed. (The rifles lie there till today.)
•As India seeks to understand the Chinese government’s intentions in the Doklam stand-off, it would be obvious and natural to see them in the context of deteriorating relations between New Delhi and Beijing for the past three years, or in terms of China’s own global ambitions, and its need to show its Asian neighbours its muscular might. But any explanation that does not consider China’s desire to draw space between India and Bhutan in the ongoing stand-off will be inadequate, and simplistic at best.
•The first and most important clue to this is the area involved in the stand-off itself: the Doklam plateau is an area that China and Bhutan have long discussed, over 24 rounds of negotiations that began in 1984. In the early 1990s China is understood to have made Bhutan an offer that seemed attractive to the government in Thimphu: a “package deal” under which the Chinese agreed to renounce their claim over the 495-sq.-km disputed land in the Pasamlung and Jakarlung valleys to the north, in exchange for a smaller tract of disputed land measuring 269 sq. km, the Doklam plateau. Several interlocutors have confirmed that the offer was repeated by China at every round, something Bhutan’s King and government would relay to India as well. While India was able to convince Bhutan to defer a decision, things did change after India and Bhutan renegotiated their friendship treaty in 2007, and post-2008, when Bhutan’s first elected Prime Minister Jigme Thinley began to look for a more independent foreign policy stance. Some time during this period, the PLA is understood to have built the dirt track at Doklam that is at the centre of the current stand-off, including the “turning point”, and the Bhutanese army appears not to have objected to it then.
•During the next five years of his tenure, Mr. Thinley conducted more rounds of talks, including on the ‘Doklam package’, and even held a controversial meeting with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao (in Rio de Janeiro, 2012), suggesting that Bhutan was thinking of establishing consular relations with China, much to India’s chagrin. During this time, Bhutan also increased the number of countries with which it had diplomatic relations from 22 to 53, and even ran an unsuccessful campaign for a non-permanent seat at the UN Security Council.
•By 2013, India took matters in hand, and the Manmohan Singh government’s decision to withdraw energy subsidies to Bhutan on the eve of its general elections that summer contributed to Jigme Thinley’s shock defeat. When the new Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay’s government prepared his first round of boundary talks with Beijing a few months later, New Delhi took no chances. It dispatched both National Security Adviser Shivshankar Menon and Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh to Thimphu to brief him. China, it would seem, realised it could no longer press the Doklam point, and a year later even offered India the Nathu La pass route through Sikkim for Kailash-Mansarovar yatris.
•With the latest stand-off, that includes the cancellation of the Nathu La route, China appears to be back in the eastern great game that Bhutan has become, or an “egg between two rocks”, as a senior Bhutanese commentator described it. India must also consider that the PLA road construction that brought Indian troops to Bhutanese territory may be what is known as a “forcing move” in chess. By triggering a situation where Indian soldiers occupy land that isn’t India’s for a prolonged period, Beijing may have actually planned to show up India’s intentions in an unfavourable light to the people of Bhutan.
•The government must see that Bhutan’s sovereignty is no trivial matter, and avoid flippant comments as the one made by the Ministry of External Affairs last week, likening the question of whether Bhutan had sought the help of Indian troops at the tri-junction to “whether the ball came first… or the batsman had taken a stand before the ball was bowled”. The question does matter to Bhutanese people, and although their government has put out a gag request to newspapers on the Doklam stand-off for now, blog posts and social media write-ups by respected commentators indicate there is much disquiet over the idea that Indian and Chinese troops may occupy the plateau in a tense stalemate for months. It cannot have escaped South Block’s notice that the only statement issued by the Bhutanese Foreign Ministry during this time makes no mention of a “distress call” to India, only of its demarche to China. Finally, New Delhi would do well to refrain from differentiating between political factions inside Bhutan, unlike what it has done in Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, and recognise that there is no “anti-India” faction in Bhutan, even if some are calling for the establishment of ties with China.
In full view of neighbours
•India must also be aware that other neighbours are watching the Doklam stand-off closely. It would be short-sighted not to recognise that Bhutan is at one tri-junction with India and China, but Nepal, Myanmar and Pakistan too have tri-junctions (at least on the map) with both countries, and China’s reference to “third country” presence in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir is putting a spotlight on all of these. Bhutan is also the only country in the region that joined India in its boycott of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s marquee project, the Belt and Road Initiative. In China’s thinking, any reconsideration of Bhutan’s unique ties with India, forged all those decades ago in asphalt and concrete, would be not only a prize, but possible payback.
•While Indian commentary has focused on the Narendra Modi government’s bilateral problems with Beijing, and India’s larger problems with China’s aggressive stance on the international stage, the truth is, this crisis is as much about the crossroads Bhutan finds itself at. India must calibrate both its message and its military moves in order to keep Bhutan on track with the special ties they share.

‘Weak public institutions best way to ensure social injustice’

The political scientist on the danger to India’s checks and balances, and the perils of the democratisation of mediocrity in universities
•Professor of political science and a holder of the Madan Lal Sobti Chair, Devesh Kapur has been director of the Center for the Study of Contemporary India at University of Pennsylvania since 2006. Mr. Kapur, who recently co-edited Public Institutions in India: Performance and Design, says our public universities have failed in fostering a spirit of inquiry, curiosity, tolerance and excellence among students. Excerpts:
•You have said you could see the making of a perfect storm in India.
•In the next few decades, we will see a youth bulge with a skewed sex ratio, one where people, the young people, have ostensible credentials but no real skills or knowledge because of how bad our education system is. So they have expectations and aspirations which are not going to be met. If you were very poor like in the past, life was short and brutish. But not now. And then add to it employment in the face of technological change which in every area requires fewer workers. All of this is coming together with a background of weak, if not weakening, public institutions to manage this. If you see institutions as mediating societal tensions, conflicts, this is what worries me the most about us.
Why do we have a scant regard for public institutions?
•In some ways, everywhere public institutions are challenged. Under the Trump regime, White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon wants to dismantle the administrative state. In the end all institutions are some form of checks and balances, but if those in power do not want those checks and balances and they get re-elected repeatedly, then over time there is erosion and — I want to emphasise this — this is across political parties. The Left, the Socialists, the caste-based parties and the regional parties and the national parties, all have to share the blame for this.
•If you think of universities, especially public universities, as public institutions, what is amazing is that one cannot think of a single political party that had the least vision of higher education. After all, education is a concurrent subject, right? So, even if the Central government has a particular stance or non-stance, the States could have intervened.
•Look at the way our vice chancellors are selected. Many of them would not get a job as a lecturer in a decent college. There are reasons to believe that at least in some cases, they have paid their way there. Between 2000 and 2015, we set up almost six new colleges a day, every single day over 15 years including weekends. At its peak, the U.S., with way greater resources, set up one new college a week. And this, when we have the most regulated higher education system… the UGC (University Grants Commission), AICTE (All India Council for Technical Education), etc.
But hasn’t the creation of universities and colleges opened access to those who didn’t have it in the first place?
•I think you can create all these universities and frame the rules. But the underlying ethos of higher education is a spirit of inquiry, a spirit of curiosity, a spirit of tolerance, a spirit that says excellence is important. In that sense higher education should be elitist. It should not be elitist by who enters, but in its intellectual ambitions. To push the frontiers of knowledge, you have to have high standards. The idea that you get grace marks to pass… what does that mean? Even the role of the courts. In fact, you could argue that if you look at the judges and many of the ways they write the judgments, it shows you what ails our education system.
But surely, that is linked to who the government selects?
•Here is the tragedy. We have the second or third largest country of people with college degrees in the world. Everywhere, whether public or private institutions, we have a shortage of talent. You know that old poem? Water, water everywhere, not a drop to drink. We have graduates, graduates everywhere, but who do I hire? Yet we are setting up more IITs.
There are a few universities that are doing well…
•Very few, they are islands of excellence. But for the bulk of our population, public universities will, and should, continue to be very important. But we seem to be writing them off. Other than the very elite narrow technical institutes like IITs and AIIMS and IIMs, these have reduced what the purpose of education means to a basic functional instrument. Isse aap ko achchi naukri milegi (you will get a good job). They are not about thinking about the larger purpose of higher education. Does it make us better citizens? Does it make us think us broadly about the society we are embedded in, what we take from it and owe it?
•It is unclear why you cannot say that if you go to this institution, you must serve in some public function for two years after you graduate. In South Korea, Singapore and other countries, for many decades they had a compulsory draft regardless of your background. If you want to create a sense of genuine nationalism, of service to the nation, that’s where it begins. It doesn’t begin in sloganeering. Why shouldn’t IIT graduates be sent to help out panchayats with technical expertise?
•If you look at public loans for higher education, they were about Rs. 300 crore in 2000. Now they are Rs. 72,000 crore, the fastest-growing NPAs (non-performing assets) in the banking system. Basically, these moneys go to private colleges, many are run by politicians, teaching rubbish and in the end, the public sector will pay in any case. There will be a lot of pressure to write off loans. They did serve a good purpose in making education accessible to a large number of students. But it is not clear if democratisation of mediocrity will serve our society well. There has been a massive elite exodus. How many children of our senior politicians, bureaucrats study here?
What ails our public institutions?
•One of the extraordinary things is how undermanned they are. It’s not only about shortage of personnel in numbers, we have a shortage in quality. Partly I think this whole thing of everything at the top being reserved for the IAS, IPS has to go.
•There has to be much more sifting; after 20 years of service, one-third of them have to leave on the performance scale. The same thing has happened with our universities. Our universities are like the civil service, they are like babudom . Whether I work or not, I am going to basically go with time.
Aren’t you being elitist here?
•Whenever someone questions this, you will immediately be attacked as elitist. Ironically, weak public institutions are the best way to ensure social injustice. Who needs strong public institutions? It is the weak, not the strong. The strong will always be able to buy their way, whether it is education, police protection. The irony is in the name of social justice, we have undermined the very social justice we have claimed we were doing this for.
So, what do we do?
•The biggest hypocrisy is self-delusion. We always say the West is individualistic. We are one of the most individual societies — the idea of the collective good where the collective is large is absent. We are becoming more ghettoised, not less. I come back to the universities, which is where the young people are on the verge of adulthood. The first time you are meeting people from different parts of the country. Ideas are shaped. That’s the last time you are going to be open-minded. The pretences go away slowly.
•Look at the faculty of our public universities. Look at West Bengal. The first two Chairs — and by the way, back then it was private money — at Calcutta University: in physics, it was C.V. Raman, and in philosophy, it was S. Radhakrishnan. Go to the university now… all completely Bengalis. The parochialism that comes with that is frightening. We have gone backwards in a serious way. One of the things we should do in our Central universities is besides reservation, insist that half the students come from outside. We have stopped thinking about the larger role universities play in public life.
•How do you see the stifling of dissent on campuses in the name of nationalism? For instance, in the context of what happened in Jawaharlal Nehru University.
The genuine conundrum we face is, if you are in a research programme funded by public money, what should be your role? Should it be activism or research?
•Research is not a part-time activity. Din bhar morcha kiya, raat ko do ghanta kaam kiya (Take part in protests through the day, do precious little at night). Good research requires tremendous commitment over a sustained period of time. You cannot get around it. That is the bottom line. An ordinary taxpayer may say, main kyon paise doon (why should I pay)? Or from the point of view of the young person: there are so many injustices, do you want me to keep aloof? I think there is an inherent tension we should recognise.
•But I do think… going back to the JP (Jayaprakash Narayan) movement, he had called students to protest. It seemed nice then. But look what it did to public universities in north India. It destroyed them. What became of the movement is that university politics became the springboard for political ambitions.
Why has our cultural debate become about Us versus Them?
•Partly there is a very distinct feeling from the Right that we were deliberately excluded. That it is our turn. Unfortunately, they don’t get Gandhi’s adage that an eye for an eye only ends up making the whole world blind. Vengeance may give you short-term pleasure, but it is not a recipe for building but for pulling down. Then you get into Us versus Them. Both sides are Indians. There is no us, them. This is our country, right? You see this in the U.S. where we see a tribalism on display. We have been sowing very poisonous seeds. We should be trying twice as hard to not be divisive. We should prepare our roofs now. We can’t do when the storm comes. By then we will be reaping what we are sowing now, and we should think very carefully what exactly we will be harvesting.

The Hindu Notes 25th July,2017

Don’t harbour unrealistic illusions, China tells India

Will safeguard security at any cost, says Defence Ministry
•China said on Monday that it will safeguard its security interests at “any cost” as its sovereignty was “indomitable”, amid a standoff with India in the Sikkim sector.
•Chinese Defence Ministry spokesman Wu Qian made this assertion ahead of this week’s National Security Advisers’ (NSA) talks to resolve the standoff.
•Maintaining China’s hardline stance on the issue, Mr. Wu told a media briefing that “India should not leave things to luck and not harbour any unrealistic illusions.”
‘Correct your mistake’
•Commenting on the over a month-long standoff between the troops of the two countries in the Doklam area in the Sikkim section, Mr. Wu urged India to “correct its mistake.”
•Stating that the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) had taken emergency measures in the region and continued to increase focused deployments and drills, he said, “We strongly urge India to take practical steps to correct its mistake, cease provocations, and meet China halfway in jointly safeguarding the border region’s peace and tranquillity.”
•His comments came as National Security Adviser Ajit Doval is set to travel to Beijing this week to attend the BRICS NSAs’ meeting scheduled to be held from July 27-28 during which he is expected to hold talks with his Chinese counterpart Yang Jiechi. Both Mr. Doval and Mr. Yang are Special Representatives of the two countries in the boundary talks. Chinese officials say while there may not be a formal meeting between the two officials, keeping with Beijing’s public position that no talks will be held without India withdrawing troops, they could hold discussions on the sidelines to end the deadlock.

Centre seeks more time on cattle slaughter rules

Everything in totality is being considered, it tells SC
•The Centre on Monday asked the Supreme Court for more time to report back on the progress in modifying the controversial cattle slaughter ban rules. “Everything in totality is being considered,” it said.
•The rules ban the sale of cattle for slaughter in livestock markets. Hearing a bunch of petitions challenging the rules on July 11, a Bench led by Chief Justice of India J.S. Khehar had recorded a submission made by the Centre that a Madras HC’s stay on the implementation of the rules was applicable across the country.
Order challenged
•But the July 11 order itself had subsequently come under challenge. Animal rights activist Gauri Maulekhi filed an application asking the SC to clarify its order. Ms. Maulekhi contended that the High Court had only stayed a provision of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Regulation of Livestock Markets) Rules, 2017, regarding slaughter and not the entire gamut of rules and its twin — The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Maintenance of Case Property Animals) Act, 2017. However, the Centre had intervened with assurances that the Environment Ministry was having a re-look at the rules and “nothing would happen” in the meantime.
•Additional Solicitor General P.S. Narasimha said the Centre would revisit the rules in the light of the public furore it had caused and fresh rules may be notified possibly in August 2017.
•The court scheduled the hearing on August 4.

Opposition seeks scrutiny of Banking Regulation Bill

Finance Minister says the issues will be dealt with when the Bill, which seeks to authorise the RBI to resolve the problem of stressed assets, comes up for a discussion
•Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley introduced the Banking Regulation (Amendment) Bill, 2017, in the Lok Sabha on Monday. The Bill seeks to authorise the RBI to resolve the problem of stressed assets, even as the Opposition demanded that it be sent to a standing committee for scrutiny.
•The Bill seeks to amend the Banking Regulation Act, 1949, and replace the Banking Regulation (Amendment) Ordinance promulgated in May. It allows the RBI to open an insolvency resolution process in respect of specific stressed assets. The RBI will also be empowered to issue directives for resolution and appoint authorities or committees to advise the banking companies on stressed asset resolution.
Desperate step
•Before that, Trinamool Congress member Saugata Roy said he opposed the ordinance itself and called it a “desperate step by a desperate government”. Non-performing assets of banks have risen to over Rs. 9 lakh crore, and now the RBI was empowered to refer the cases to the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Board, he said.
•“It is the same RBI which had not been able to count notes [after demonetisation]. Giving such powers to the RBI will switch its attention from macro-economic issues to micro-economic issues and render the bank management useless,” Mr. Roy said. He wanted the Bill referred to a standing committee.
•Speaker Sumitra Mahajan asked Mr. Jaitley if he wanted to respond to Mr. Roy’s remarks. The Finance Minister said the issues would be dealt with when the Bill came up for a discussion.

Admiralty Bill gets Rajya Sabha nod

One is on maritime claims and the other on footwear design institute
•The Rajya Sabha on Monday passed two Bills on jurisdiction and settlement of maritime claims and the Footwear Design and Development Institute. However, the Motor Vehicle (Amendment) Bill, 2017, could not be taken up.
•The Admiralty (Jurisdiction and Settlement of Maritime Claims), Bill, 2017, passed by the Lok Sabha in March, seeks to consolidate the laws relating to admiralty jurisdiction, legal proceedings in connection with vessels, their arrest, detention, sale and other related matters. While earlier only the High Courts of Bombay, Calcutta and Madras could take up maritime cases, the Bill extends the power to the High Courts of Karnataka, Kerala, Hyderabad, Orissa and Gujarat, besides any other High Courts as notified by the Centre.
Current scenario
•Moving the Bill, Minister of State for Road Transport and Highways and Shipping Mansukh L. Mandaviya said the old maritime admiralty laws in India needed to be changed in accordance with the current global scenario. He said the Bill was aimed at bringing in clarity to the law.
•The Footwear Design and Development Institute Bill, 2017, as earlier passed by the Lok Sabha, is to establish it as an institution of national importance. Although all members supported the Bill, some said recent developments had an adverse impact on leather industry. Referring to the recent incidents involving “cow vigilantes,” Congress member P.L. Punia sought protection to those engaged in the industry.
•Samajwadi Party’s Ram Gopal Yadav and BSP’s Veer Singh raised the issue of Agra-based traders saying they were facing severe supply shortage.
•Responding to Mr. Yadav’s remarks, Minister of State for Commerce and Industry Nirmala Sitharaman said flaws of the past were being corrected now.
•She said earlier, leather was being supplied from unregulated, unlicensed and illegal sources, which should not have happened.
•The government was just trying to regulate the supplies.
•Ms. Sitharaman informed the House that the programme currently has 12 campuses, of which seven units are already functional.

‘Enough political will to seal RCEP talks’

People’s groups seek to halt negotiations; claim FTA will harm farmers, industry
•India is ‘fully committed’ to taking forward the negotiations for a mega Free Trade Agreement (FTA) called the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), to ensure that it is a ‘balanced’ pact that benefits all the 16 Asia-Pacific nations including itself that are participating in the talks, according to commerce secretary Rita Teaotia.
•The senior official, in effect, dismissed speculations that the India-China border standoff will have an adverse impact on the trade talks.
•While the RCEP negotiations — aiming to liberalise norms in the 16 countries including India and China to boost trade and investment in the Asia-Pacific region — are underway behind closed doors at the Hyderabad International Convention Centre, several people’s groups from across the country held demonstrations demanding a halt to the talks.
•They claimed that the mega-regional FTA will, among other things, adversely impact not only farmers’ rights but also access to affordable medicines, besides threatening the protections to India’s digital industry.
Surge feared
•However, the commerce secretary told The Hindu that “all the 16 countries, including India, have expressed willingness to constructively engage in the talks and have put forward revised offers in goods and services to negotiate a mutually beneficial outcome.” Amid fears that the FTA will result in a surge in inflow of cheap goods into India from these countries including China, in turn impacting the Indian industry and farmers, the senior official said the Indian negotiating team is confident that they can “protect India’s interests and ensure that the FTA is not unfair to India.”
•“We are going to have more frequent rounds of negotiations. There will also be a Ministerial meeting in September,” she said, indicating that there is enough political will to expedite the conclusion of the talks.
•This is the 19th Round of the RCEP Trade Negotiating Committee meeting at the technical level. In addition to this, so far there have been four Ministerial Meetings and three ‘Inter-sessional Ministerial Meetings’.
•India Inc. is learnt to have reservations against India undertaking any binding commitment to immediately eliminate duties on most traded goods, as part of the FTA. However, Ms. Teaotia said “one should not underestimate India’s strengths in various sectors.” She added that FTA negotiations are always on the basis of “give and take” and that there will be “gains for India” from the pact.
•India is pushing for liberalisation of services, including easing norms for movement of professionals across borders for short-term work. However, the slow progress of the services negotiations has been worrying India.

Ambiguity on GST irks solar players

‘Suppliers yet to pass on input tax credits; higher costs will be passed on to end users’
•Ambiguity surrounding the Goods and Services Tax rate on various inputs is troubling the solar sector, with industry players also saying that their suppliers are not passing on the benefit arising out of input tax credits, leading to higher prices and eventually higher tariffs for customers.
•“There is no clarity when it comes to the GST rates,” Sanjeev Aggarwal, MD and CEO of Amplus Energy Solutions told The Hindu . “While the government is saying that there is a 5% rate on solar components, the truth is that the weighted average rate comes at about 10%. Some items are taxed at 18%, and some at the lower 5%. Others, like inverters, are even taxed at 28%.”
•“Suppliers have also not yet started passing on the benefits of the input tax credits to us, so we are not getting the advantage of that either,” Mr. Aggarwal added.
•While the 5% tax rate specified by the GST Council for solar components has increased the cost of the projects, the ambiguity over the other inputs — which are used for projects other than in the solar sector — is creating confusion among solar developers.
•“The module, which is almost half of the cost of the solar system…, earlier there was no tax on it,” Gagan Vermani, founder and CEO at MYSUN said. “Now, it has come under 5%. Ultimately, it will increase the cost of the modules by 5%. And, we have to pass this on to the customers. Our cost of procurement has gone up, so the selling price will also go up.”
‘End use classification’
•“There is also a little confusion on solar right now because the detailed gazette talks about structures, invertors, wires, and other components without specifying whether they are for solar or not,” Mr. Vermani added. “But there is a separate line item that says for solar utilities, the rate is 5%. So, there is confusion about whether an inverter, if it is being used for solar, comes under 5% or the normal rate of 28%.”
•“Because GST is an end-use tax, the government cannot even discriminate between uses by saying that, say, an inverter used for solar purposes will be taxed this much, but for other purposes at a higher rate,” Mr. Aggarwal said. “This will be very difficult to implement and will also lead to misuse. How will one prove for what purpose it is being used for?”
•The same is true for the other components as well.
•“Everyday we are sitting with our tax consultants and trying to figure out the eventual impact on our projects,” Sanjay Garudapally, director, business development, Rays Power Infra said. “We are getting different answers. Some are saying 10%, others are saying other rates. Nothing has been clarified so far since GST has rolled out, but we expect something to be done in about three weeks to a month.”

SC for more data on GM mustard

•The Supreme Court on Monday asked the government to stop itself from embarking on any project on, or commercial release of, genetically modified (GM) mustard.

•A Bench of Chief Justice of India J.S. Khehar and Justice D.Y. Chandrachud said an injunction order would be passed if it was found that GM mustard affected health and lives for generations.
•The court agreed with Additional Solicitor-General Tushar Mehta’s suggestion to get more scientific information on GM mustard by July 28 to address the apprehensions raised by the court and petitioner Aruna Rodrigues, represented by advocate Prashant Bhushan, on the after-effects of GM mustard. The court scheduled the case for hearing on July 31.
•“If nothing happens, if there is no problem, then it is fine. But if there is going to be an impact, we would like to have an injunction in place, by either us or by you,” Chief Justice Khehar told Mr. Mehta categorically. Mr. Mehta said discussions and studies were still on about the large number of representations received from the public and scientific bodies about GM mustard.

What’s brewing in Darjeeling

The Gorkhaland movement constitutes an opting out of West Bengal’s domination and opting in to the democratic frameworks of India
•The Darjeeling hills are in crisis. A resurgent Gorkhaland movement and subsequent state crackdown have infused life with violent uncertainty. Visitors to the ‘queen of the hills’ will be hard-pressed to find the idyllic tea plantations, mountain views, and quaint footpaths that characterise Darjeeling. Challenging these figments of the postcolonial imagination has always been another side to Darjeeling, now undeniably visible in the tear gas, burning vehicles, crippling strikes, tourist evacuations, foreboding police and military presence, and deaths at the hands of both state forces and political activists.
•The current crisis was born of a perfect storm. In May, the West Bengal government announced Bengali as a compulsory language in schools across the State. By June, this triggered protests and claims of ‘linguistic imperialism’ in the Darjeeling and Kalimpong districts (where the lingua franca is Nepali). Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee then decided to hold a Cabinet meeting in Darjeeling for the first time in over 40 years. Little effort was made to include representatives of the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA) or the three hill MLAs, eliciting protests. The ensuing clash with police left government property destroyed and many protesters injured. The Army was brought in to staunch unrest, but it escalated instead. Subsequent protests and crackdowns have led to further destruction and deaths.
•With ‘Jai Gorkha, Jai Gorkhaland’ reverberating through the hills, Darjeeling has plunged again into the throes of agitation. Internet and cable television have been suspended for the last month. Strikes and security threats have devastated the local economy at the peak of tourist season. While fear is rampant, so is a shared sense of resistance and solidarity. Uncertainty notwithstanding, the crisis has made clear: Darjeeling is not what it’s often made out to be.
•The time has come to take a deeper look at the histories undergirding Darjeeling’s latest crisis. This requires asking: What is Gorkhaland? And why is it deemed necessary by those who call the region home?
The crux of the movement
•The Gorkhaland movement is a long-standing quest for a separate State of Gorkhaland within India for Nepali-speaking Indian citizens (often known as ‘Gorkhas’). With roots dating back over a century, Gorkhaland is a classic subnationalist movement, not unlike those that have produced other States, most recently Telangana, Uttarakhand, Jharkhand, and Chhattisgarh. Beyond all else, Gorkhaland is a desire for the recognition, respect, and integration of Gorkha peoples in the Indian nation-state. Contra popular misunderstanding, the movement is neither separatist nor anti-nationalist; it is about inclusion and belonging in India. As Gorkha National Liberation Front founder Subash Ghisingh explained during the first Gorkhaland agitation in the 1980s, “We Nepali-Indians who have nothing to do with Nepal are constantly confused with ‘Nepalis’, that is, citizens of Nepal, a foreign country. But if there is Gorkhaland then our belonging to an Indian State, just like your identity, will be clear.”
•With those demands unrequited, a second Gorkhaland movement emerged in 2007 under the leadership of Bimal Gurung of the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) and has flared intermittently. Heralding self-governance, recognition, and belonging in India, Gorkhaland remains the dream for Darjeeling citizens and many Nepali-speaking Indians across the country. It stands as a key means to redress the Gorkhas’ enduring history of discrimination, misconception, and marginalisation in India. Herein lies the rub — and primary antagonism with West Bengal. By demanding Gorkhaland, the people of Darjeeling-Kalimpong are opting out of West Bengal’s domination, and opting in to the democratic frameworks of India writ large.
•Understanding Gorkhaland requires understanding its underlying histories. In many ways, the Gorkhas of Darjeeling have yet to taste the liberation of India’s Independence. The local economy illustrates the continuities between the colonial and postcolonial eras: Gorkhas remain pegged to the lowest levels of employment, while outsiders own the tea industry, meaning its profits flow out of the hills. These economic constraints are exacerbated by the misunderstandings Gorkhas face when they seek education and work in places like Kolkata, Bengaluru, and New Delhi. Called ‘foreigners’, ‘outsiders’ and ‘chinkys’, racial discrimination affects aspiring Gorkhas at every turn.
Reasons for resurgence
•The political circumstances are equally frustrating. Since 1947, the Darjeeling-Kalimpong region has remained under the thumb of West Bengal, despite no substantive pre-Partition evidence to support West Bengal’s territorial claims to this region. Conciliatory set-ups like the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council (1988-2012) and the GTA (2012-present) have failed to provide meaningful autonomy. These problems don’t emanate solely from the hands of Bengalis, yet much of the marginalisation coalesces under the shadow of West Bengal’s domination. Thus, when Ms. Banerjee and others stridently lay claim to Darjeeling, insisting that Bengal will never be divided, it strikes a nerve for the Gorkha peoples of India, evoking painful, yet ever-present, histories.
•Instances like the attempted imposition of compulsory Bengali are not read as one-off events or mere slights in Darjeeling. They are seen as extensions of precisely the histories of domination that the Gorkhas are trying to escape. Ms. Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress (TMC) has lately made significant inroads into the hills. West Bengal’s recent creation of the Kalimpong district (2017) and the State’s doling out of Tribal Development Boards to ethnicities within the Gorkha conglomerate (Tamang, Sherpa, etc.) might appear well-intended gestures but in paving the way for the TMC’s electoral gains, they appear to many as clear examples of ‘divide and rule’ — causing splits in the Gorkha electorate and undermining the already-limited authority of the GTA. Indeed, the GJM’s instigation of the current agitation was at least partly in response to TMC encroachment. GTA elections were imminent, but the GJM’s popularity was waning in the face of considerable rewards flowing from West Bengal’s coffers. By summoning thousands to the streets, the GJM demonstrated its ability to evoke the emotional force of Gorkhaland. But then violence took hold, and the Gorkhaland movement once again became something else — something bigger than any one party.
•The sudden resurgence of Gorkhaland has caught many by surprise. But today’s turmoil mustn’t obscure deeper histories. For Gorkhas, the troubling realities of colonial and present-day Darjeeling are eerily similar: linguistic chauvinism, ethnic and racial discrimination, resource extraction, unilateral territorial claims, the denial of self-governance, political suppression; and ultimately, an unwillingness to respect the ‘native point of view’. This double bind of colonial nostalgia and neocolonial regional domination produces a sense of constant déjà vu, leading to the desperate feeling that genuine progress is out of reach. These unsettling truths demand some soul-searching.
•A reconsideration is in order. Brisk air, Himalayan vistas, and beautiful tea plantations may be Darjeeling’s enduring attributes, but these do not define the life experiences of those who call this embattled place home. Today’s unrest makes this painfully clear — and calls out in intermittently poignant and frustrated voices for a new kind of engagement.
•Rune Bennike (Copenhagen University), Sarah Besky (Brown University), Nilamber Chhetri (Maharashtra National Law University), Townsend Middleton (University of North Carolina), Roshan P. Rai (DLR Prerna), Swatahsiddha Sarkar (University of North Bengal), Debarati Sen (Kennesaw State University), Jayeeta Sharma (University of Toronto), Sara Shneiderman (University of British Columbia), and Miriam Wenner (Goettingen University) on behalf of The Darjeeling Studies Collective, a group of more than a dozen scholars with long-term research experience in the Darjeeling region

Bilateral catalyst

American cooperation in science, technology and innovation will help India’s start-up ecosystem
•Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s recent visit to the U.S. is likely to deepen bilateral ties in multiple strategic areas. Among them, science and technology, a key driver for innovation and job creation in both countries, needs to take centre stage.
•The shared values and interests of both the countries provide the essential underpinning for future collaboration. Besides, India has the advantage of enjoying bipartisan support in the U.S. in this regard. Over the years, knowledge and technology have become central to most of the bilateral agreements and strategic dialogues between the two countries. Bilateral agreements such as the Partnership to Advance Clean Energy and joint participation in mega projects in the areas of fundamental science such as the High Intensity Superconducting Proton Accelerator, the Thirty Meter Telescope, the Laser Interferometer Gravitational Observatory and the NASA-ISRO Synthetic Aperture Radar Mission will have a far-reaching impact. Going forward, we can reap higher pay-offs if collaborative engagements are focused on sector-agnostic technologies, such as information technology, nanotechnology, and gene-editing technology. This will have positive impact on all spheres of collaboration such as education, economy and trade, defence and homeland security, energy and climate, health, agriculture and space.
The science landscape
•To further strengthen the existing system of collaboration and help initiate new ones, we need to understand the science, technology and innovation (STI) landscape in the U.S. Learning the best practices on grant management and science administration from key American federal agencies such as the National Institutes of Health, the Department of Energy, the National Science Foundation, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture will be a good starting point for India’s science departments and research institutions.
•Knowledge generated through science and technology needs to be capitalised in order to fuel the process of innovation and the creation of an entrepreneurial class which can help find solutions for the society at multiple levels. The American system provides one of the best models for this. The core components of our innovation ecosystem need to be supported by enabling systems and practices to transform technologies and inventions into products. Learning from U.S. institutions the practices of the innovation value chain — ranging from ideation to prototyping and business-friendly incubation of the prototypes and the fostering of a proper legal and investor-friendly milieu — will make a visible difference on the ground. Second, an innovation does not necessarily have to be of the cutting-edge kind. The right solutions should be need-based and affordable.
•Where required, we should model our institutional system to enable our scientists and engineers to pair up with business mentors to make the successful journey from the laboratory to the marketplace. The ongoing efforts to promote innovation and entrepreneurship through initiatives like the U.S.-India Science and Technology Endowment Fund, the Stanford-India Biodesign Programme and the Khorana Technology Transfer programme should be strengthened to enhance the efficiency and productivity of our emerging innovation system. Integrating American technologies with products of Indian grassroots innovations will enhance the value of the latter and make them scalable, affordable and marketable.
Deepening of ties
•A database of U.S.-based inventors, their inventions and technologies relevant to India needs to be created. Further, the existing collaborative partnerships and student exchange programmes between research institutions and universities in both the countries need to be strengthened at various levels — including university-to-university, university-to-industry, industry-to-industry, and consortia-to-consortia levels. Joint incubators, to enable Indian start-ups to introduce products in the U.S. market and to facilitate U.S.-based start-ups to enter India with inflow of technologies, mentors and best business practices, should be set up.
•Finally, the knowledge and skills of the successful Indian diaspora and Indophiles in the American administration should be leveraged to not only support the Indian start-up ecosystem but also to raise funds for programmes that will help India achieve inclusive development. India’s pledge to manufacture locally, create more jobs and stay ahead of the competition can be redeemed to a great extent by marrying the Indian skills of low-cost innovation, for example in launching satellites and in space exploration, with the American prowess in science and technology.

Taxing times for the States

The withering of the States’ fiscal independence under GST strikes at the core of federalism
•The new Goods and Services Tax (GST) regime, introduced by way of the 101st Constitutional Amendment, is based on a fundamental notion that uniformity in tax administration across the country is an idea worth cherishing. Indeed, the Union government has seemingly been so enthralled by its own enactment that it rolled out the tax on July 1 by organising an extraordinary midnight session of Parliament.
•At its launch, Prime Minister Narendra Modi described the GST as a “good and simple tax”, and as a reform of far-reaching consequences that would help integrate India into a single market with a standard rate of taxation. That India could take such a step, he said, was an example in “cooperative federalism”. Or, as some others have described it, the GST is a product of a pooled sovereignty, where the States have voluntarily waived some of the critical fiscal powers that they hitherto enjoyed under the Constitution.
Denting fiscal autonomy
•The rhetoric here can sound forceful. But much of this begs the question. For instance, we don’t know so far why uniformity in tax or the creation of a single market is necessarily a good thing for a country like India. We aren’t told how this will make us happier, or how it will enhance the causes of liberty and equality, the bedrocks on which our Constitution is built. What we do know, however, is rather damaging: that the GST, far from being a case of “cooperative federalism”, is really an incursion into the authority that India’s States have been permitted under the Constitution. The resultant withering of the States’ fiscal independence strikes at the core of the Constitution’s basic structure which the Supreme Court has held is inviolable.
•The Constitution, as originally adopted, establishes a clear, federal arrangement. It prescribes two levels of government, one at the Centre and the other at each of the States. Although matters of national importance, such as foreign affairs and the defence of India, are assigned to the Union, the responsibilities placed on the States are also particularly salient. For instance, the power to legislate on public order, public health and sanitation, agriculture, water and land are all exclusively vested in the State governments. This authority, as Chief Justice Maurice Gwyer observed in the context of the division made under the Government of India Act, 1935, which the Constitution largely assumed, is no slight matter.
•“We must again refer to the fundamental proposition… that Indian Legislatures within their own sphere have plenary powers of legislation as large and of the same nature as those of Parliament itself,” wrote Gwyer, in Bhola Prasad v. R . As the constitutional scholar H.M. Seervai has said, if Gwyer’s statements were true in 1942, when he wrote them, they are certainly true now, when we have State legislatures functioning under a system of Cabinet government.
Partners in taxation
•In this constitutional scheme, where State governments are seen as equal partners, the founders thought it necessary to be very careful in allocating the powers of taxation. The partition made for this purpose was highly intricate, and they ensured that the taxes assigned to the Union and the States were mutually exclusive. For instance, while the Central government was given the power to tax income other than agricultural income, and levy indirect taxes in the form of customs and excise duties, State governments were given the sole power to tax the sale of goods and the entry of goods into a State.
•This division of fiscal responsibility was made with a view to making States self-sufficient, and with a view to supplying to regional powers the flexibility needed to govern according to the respective needs of their people. The underlying idea here was that States should be uninhibited in tinkering taxation policies in whatever manner they desired so long as their laws conformed to the other constitutional diktats.
•When resisting changes suggested to the draft Constitution in the Constituent Assembly, which demanded that the rates of sales tax be subject to parliamentary law, B.R. Ambedkar put it this way: “It seems to me that if we permit the sales tax to be levied by the provinces, then the provinces must be free to adjust the rate of the sales tax to the changing situation of the province, and, therefore, a ceiling from the Centre would be a great handicap in the working of the sales tax.”
Confusion over GST Council
•The introduction of the GST, however, militates against this grand constitutional objective, against the aspiration set out in Article 1 of the Constitution, which declares India as a “Union of States”. In endeavouring to pursue the goal of creating a single market through a homogenisation of the tax regime, the amendment grants to both the Union and the State governments concomitant powers over nearly all indirect taxes. To further effectuate this effort, the law also creates a GST Council, which comprises the Union Finance Minister, the Union Minister of State in charge of revenue or finance, and the minister in charge of finance from each State government. In acting as a nodal agency of sorts, this council will recommend a number of things, among others the list of taxes that will be subsumed by the GST, the goods and services that will be exempt from the levy of tax, the rates at which tax shall be levied, and so forth. The council’s decisions will require a three-fourths majority, but the Central government’s votes will have a weightage of one-third of the total votes cast, according, thereby, to the Union a virtual veto.
•Now, there’s some confusion over whether the GST Council’s decisions are actually binding on the various State governments. The newly introduced Article 279A, which creates the council, describes its decisions as “recommendations”, but it also grants the council the power to establish a mechanism to adjudicate any dispute that might arise between any of its members in implementing the recommendations. If the council’s recommendations are to be treated as purely advisory, it leaves us wondering why we need a dispute resolution mechanism at all.
•Whichever way one wants to read the provisions of the new law, it’s clear that the amendment makes core changes to the fiscal division that the Constitution’s makers so meticulously devised. As a result, we could potentially have a scenario where one or the other of the States chooses to ignore the council’s advice, by levying additional tax not only on the sale of goods but also on services and manufacturing, subjects over which the Union enjoyed exclusive domain.
•On the other hand, if these recommendations are treated as obligatory, we are left with a situation where States would have altogether surrendered their fiscal autonomy to the Central government. In such a case, a State would be barred from fashioning its laws in a manner befitting the necessities of its people.
•India’s federal architecture is premised on a principle that promises the maintenance of an internal sovereignty, where States function as separate political entities within the domains allocated to them. But often the drive to maintain federalism, where the Constitution demands it, goes beyond any obligation to preserve the rights of the States. It goes to the root of the constraints against all arbitrary power, and, to that extent, this amendment is a grave onslaught on the Constitution’s basic structure.

The Hindu Notes 24th July,2017

Once hero, now ‘white elephant’

Decommissioned submarine Vagli lies idle in Chennai port after plan to convert it into a museum fails

•She served the Indian Navy and the nation for over 36 years and could have become only the second submarine museum of the country. But since her decommissioning in 2010, the Russia-designed submarine INS Vagli has taken a tedious and uncertain course. She currently lies idle at the Chennai port.

•The submarine, which was to be the centrepiece of the maritime heritage museum planned by the Tamil Nadu government in the tourist town of Mamallapuram, was expected to be displayed on a 30-acre stretch of land near the Shore Temple of the UNESCO-declared World Heritage group of monuments.

•However, the inability of a contractor to mount the submarine on the intended site at Mamallapuram has forced the vessel to lie idle at the Chennai port.

•While government sources say on condition of anonymity that the project turned out to be a “white elephant” and that they have urged the Navy to “take back” the vessel, Navy sources deny having received any such proposal.

•An official of the Chennai Port Trust confirmed that the submarine was still lying on its premises. “Officials have been regularly paying the dues,” the official added.

Plan made in 2012

•The Tamil Nadu government, under Chief Minister Jayalalithaa had in June 2012 decided to set up the maritime museum with the submarine, and senior Navy officials handed over INS Vagli to it in April 2013.

•In November that year, the then Tourism Minister S.P. Shunmuganathan visited Visakhapatnam along with senior officials to study the museum there, housed in the decommissioned submarine INS Kursura.

•INS Vagli has since witnessed a series of incidents. In January 2014, a worker died of asphyxiation while trying to clean the submarine. He was attempting to retrieve his cellphone, which had fallen into the vessel. Two others were hospitalised in the incident.

•Later that year, in April, a company that was awarded a contract towed the vessel to Mamallapuram, only to find that the submarine could not be mounted on the intended platform at the historic town. In June that year, INS Vagli was towed back to Chennai port.

Petitioner moves court

•Meanwhile, in April 2015, a petitioner moved the Madras High Court, seeking to find an alternative site for the museum, contending that the submarine being a “huge piece of voluminous scrap” had the “potentiality of inviting lightning”. However, the petition was dismissed by the Madras High Court, which observed that the matter fell purely within the administrative domain.

‘Wasteful expenditure’

•A 2016 report of the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India questioned the process adopted by the government to move the submarine to Mamallapuram in one piece and observed that an “infructuous expenditure of Rs. 4.41 crore” was incurred due to a lack of proper planning.

•In December 2016, the submarine was almost damaged when Cyclone Vardah hit the Chennai coast.

•INS Vagli was commissioned into the Indian Navy at Riga in Latvia, which was part of the erstwhile Soviet Union in 1974, and was decommissioned at Visakhapatnam in December 2010.

Spanish scientists develop ‘anti-Zika drug’

Compound previously used as antibiotic
•Researchers from a southeastern Spanish university announced the discovery of a molecule that could be used as a potential drug to fight the effects of a Zika virus infection.
•In a statement on Saturday, the San Antonio Catholic University of Murcia said that scientists belonging to its Bioinformatics and High-Performance Computing research group had found that a compound previously used as an antibiotic countered the symptoms of the mosquito-borne disease, Efe news reported.
•“It’s a drug that had been withdrawn from the market because it had lost its potency as an antibiotic, but we know it can be administered to humans,” said Jose Pedro Ceron, a member of the research team.
•The molecular structure of the proteins involved in the Zika virus’ replication process was first described only a year ago.

Russia keen on selling MiG-35 jets to India

Official says talks on technical specifications are on
•Russia is keen on selling its new fighter jet MiG-35 to India with the MiG corporation’s chief saying the country has evinced interest in the aircraft and talks were on to understand its requirements.
•The Director-General of Russian Aircraft Corporation MiG, Ilya Tarasenko, said the MiG-35 was “the best” and definitely better than Lockheed Martin’s fifth-generation combat aircraft F-35.
•He claimed that the MiG-35 would beat the American jet in air-to-air combat.
•Mr. Tarasenko, while talking to presspersons on the sidelines of the MAKS 2017 air show here, said after having presented MiG-35 in January, the MiG corporation began to promote the aircraft in India and in other parts of the world actively.
•“We are proposing supply of the aircraft for tenders in India and we actively work with its Air Force in order to win the tender,” he said.
Multi-purpose jet
•The MiG-35 is Russia’s most advanced 4++ generation multipurpose fighter jet developed on the basis of the serial-produced MiG-29K/KUB and MiG-29M/M2 combat aircraft.
•Asked if India had expressed any interest in MiG-35, Mr. Tarasenko said, “Of course they have.”
•MiG aircraft have been used by India for almost 50 years.

‘India’s approach to U.S. and China differs’

Former Obama aide explains how
•India frequently and assertively tries to shape comments from the United States on Pakistan during crises, but it does not do so in the case of China, said Dr. Joshua T. White, a former White House and Pentagon official in the Barack Obama administration.
•“The U.S. is largely sympathetic to the challenge that India faces in dealing with a territorially assertive China. Given the nature of Sino-Indian disputes, India technically does not ask for our help because it does not need it. But it knows that Washington presents a sympathetic ear and that if there were to be wider a Sino-Indian crisis, we will have a totally different conversation,” Dr. White said in conversation with The Hindu .
•This is in complete contrast to the approach taken on issues concerning Pakistan, where New Delhi is quite keen for condemnation of Islamabad’s actions from Washington, he added.
•“It is understandable that India more frequently and assertively tries to shape U.S. comments on Pakistan, given the nature of the U.S. relationship with Pakistan and the ways in which the U.S. has, by default, served as an intermediary in a crisis,” Dr. White stated.
Doklam standoff
•India is presently engaged in a major standoff with China at Doklam near the India-Bhutan-China tri-junction. On the Western side, there has been a flare-up in tensions along the Line of Control (LoC) with Pakistan. While the India-China stand off began in June 16, the flare up on the LoC has been going on since the terror attack on the Army camp in Uri in September last year.
•In the early hours after Uri, India was quite assertive in wanting the U.S. government to label this incident as a cross border attack from Pakistan, said Dr. White, who is now an Associate Professor and Fellow at the Johns Hopkins University.
•While the U.S. was sympathetic to the Indian position, he said, “We wanted to do our own assessment of the attribution before we made a statement.”

CAG flags delay in work on corvettes

‘Designs constantly modified resulting in inadequate systems, inflated costs of anti-submarine vessels’
•The Comptroller and Auditor-General (CAG) has faulted the Navy and Garden Reach Shipbuilders and Engineers Ltd. for delay in construction of anti-submarine warfare corvettes and hampering their capabilities because of delayed decisions.
•The report said the approved designs were amended 24 times till as late as last year.
Weapons not installed
•In the report presented in Parliament last week, the CAG, referring to specific equipment to be installed on two of the four ships delivered, said, “Against the 18 weapons and sensors to be installed on ASW corvettes, audit observed that the two ASW corvettes delivered were not fitted with ‘X’ weapon and sensor systems. Thus, ASW corvettes could not perform to its full potential as envisaged.”
•On the overall project, the report noted that while the Letter of Intent (LoI) was issued in March 2003, only a sketchy specification of the ship was made available to Garden Reach Shipbuilders and Engineers Limited (GRSE) and finalisation of system design as well as specification of equipment, weapon and sensor fit were to be undertaken by the Directorate of Naval Design.
•“The Directorate of Naval Design finalised the same only in the year 2006 and major modifications continued till 2008,” the audit report said.
•Due to the major design modifications, the cost went up from the original sanction of Rs. 3,051.27 crore to Rs. 7,852.39 crore.
•The first corvette was delivered to the Navy in July 2014 and the second in November 2015.
•According to the contract for the project, the third ASW corvette should have been delivered in July 2014 and the fourth one in April 2015.
•The auditor also noted that harbour acceptance trials (HATs) were still pending as of December 2016 in respect of the second ASW Corvette for over a year.
Trials incomplete
•In addition, Sea Acceptance Test (SAT) on six weapons and sensors in the first corvette and all weapons and sensors on the second one were pending satisfactory completion.

Payments bank: for the informal sector

How is a payments bank different from a commercial bank?
•There are two kinds of banking licences that are granted by the Reserve Bank of India – universal bank licence and differentiated bank licence. Payments bank comes under a differentiated bank licence since it cannot offer all the services that a commercial bank offers. In particular, a payments bank cannot lend. It can take deposits upto Rs. 1 lakh per account and it can issue debit cards but not credit cards. Commercial banks in India like State Bank of India or ICICI Bank, do not have any such restrictions.
What is the objective of a payments bank?
•The main objective is to further financial inclusion by providing small savings accounts and payments/remittance services to migrant labour workforce, low income households, small businesses and other unorganised sector entities.
Besides remittance, can payments bank undertake any other activity?
•A payments bank can work as a business correspondent (BC) of another bank. They can also distribute simple financial products like mutual fund units and insurance products.
How many payments banks have commenced operations?
•Out of the 11 entities that received in-principle licence for opening payments bank, 7 entities received the final licence. Four payments banks have started operations — Airtel Payments Bank, India Post Payments Bank, Paytm Payments Bank and Fino Payments Bank.
What is the minimum capital requirement for a payments bank?
•RBI has mandated the minimum paid-up equity capital for payments bank at Rs. 100 crore.
Where can a payments bank deploy its deposits?
•Apart from maintaining Cash Reserve Ratio (CRR), these entities have to invest a minimum 75% of demand deposit balances in Statutory Liquidity Ratio (SLR)-eligible government securities or treasury bills with maturity of up to one year and hold a maximum of 25% in current and time/fixed deposits with other commercial banks for operational purposes and liquidity management.
Who all are eligible to set up a payments bank?
•RBI permits non-bank Prepaid Payment Instrument (PPI) issuers, individuals and professionals, non-banking finance companies (NBFCs), corporate business correspondents (BCs), mobile telephone companies, super market chains, companies, real sector cooperatives that are owned and controlled by residents and public sector entities to apply for a payments bank licence. Setting up of a joint venture by a promoter with an existing commercial bank is also allowed.

MPC members to get Rs. 1.5 lakh per meet, must disclose assets

RBI panel will need to observe ‘silent period’ 7 days before and after rate decision
•The government appointees on the powerful Monetary Policy Committee will be paid Rs. 1.5 lakh per meeting along with air travel and other reimbursements, but will need to observe a “silent period” seven days before and after the rate decision for “utmost confidentiality”.
•The silent period and confidentiality requirements will also apply to the three RBI members, including the Governor, on the panel that has been deciding on policy rates since October last year, the central bank has said.
‘Conflict of interest’
•The members of the RBI Governor-chaired panel, which has to hold meetings at least four times in a year, are also required to be mindful of any conflict between their personal and public interest while interacting with profit making organisations and making personal financial transactions, the Reserve Bank said in its newly notified regulations for functioning of the committee.
•The six-member MPC, constituted in September 2016, has three persons appointed by the central government while the rest, including the Governor, are from the RBI.
•The members appointed by the government would “receive a remuneration of Rs. 1,50,000 for devoting time and work for each meeting of the committee… which they attend and other expenses relating to air travel, local transportation and accommodation as may be decided by the central board from time to time,” as per the regulations.
•The panel is required to meet at least four times in a year and the RBI has been convening a bi-monthly meeting of this committee.
•Chetan Ghate, professor at the Indian Statistical Institute, Pami Dua, director at the Delhi School of Economics and Ravindra H Dholakia, professor at the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad are the three government-appointed members.
•Their appointment is for a period of four years or until further orders, whichever is earlier.
•Apart from RBI Governor Urjit Patel, Deputy Governor Viral V Acharya and Executive Director M.D. Patra are also part of the committee.
•The regulations do not mention whether any separate allowance would be given to the RBI members on the committee.
•Earlier this year, Mr. Patel and his deputies got a big pay increase with the government more than doubling their basic salary to Rs. 2.5 lakh and Rs. 2.25 lakh per month, respectively.
•The “basic pay of the Governor and Deputy Governors” have been revised retrospectively with effect from January 1, 2016, and marks a huge jump from Rs. 90,000 basic pay so far drawn by the Governor and Rs. 80,000 for his deputies.
•According to the Monetary Policy Committee and Monetary Policy Process Regulations, 2016, MPC members should also take adequate precaution to ensure utmost confidentiality of its policy decision before that is made public and preserve confidentiality about the decision making process,
•These regulations were notified by the RBI earlier this month.
•“While interacting with profit-making organisations or making personal financial decisions, they shall be mindful of, and weigh carefully, any scope for conflict between personal interest and public interest,” the regulations said.
•Each member of the MPC has one vote and in case the numbers are equal, the governor has the casting vote.
•The MPC, which has the responsibility of achieving a set inflation target, should submit a report to the government in case of failure to achieve the required target.
•In such instances, the report shall be sent to the central government “within one month from the date on which the bank has failed to meet the inflation target“.
•The regulations further said the schedule of the MPC meetings for the entire fiscal year needs to be announced in advance.
•At least 15 days of notice is required for convening a meeting ordinarily, but an emergency meeting can be called with 24 hours notice for each member and technology-enabled arrangements need to be made for even shorter notice period meetings.
Annual disclosure
•All members need to disclose their assets and liabilities and update this information once every year.
•“Members shall observe a silent or blackout period starting seven days before the voting/decision ray and ending seven days after the day policy is announced. During this period, they will avoid public comment on issues related to monetary policy other than through the MPC’s communication framework,” the RBI said.
•Also, members cannot reveal outside the committee any confidential information accessed during the monetary policy deliberations.
•After conclusion of MPC meeting, a resolution needs to be made public including on the policy repo rate and any other monetary policy measures at the discretion of the Chairperson while keeping in view the functioning and timing of financial markets.

Forum concerned at ‘secret’ RCEP talks

Govt. should agree to a debate, says Yogendra Yadav
•Civil society organisations and trade experts on Sunday raised concern over the secrecy surrounding the negotiations regarding a proposed mega-regional Free Trade Agreement (FTA) involving 16 Asia Pacific nations including India and China.
•Technical level talks of the proposed FTA, officially known as Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), are being held from July 18 to 28 at the Hyderabad International Convention Centre.
•The RCEP, among other things, aims to liberalise investment norms as well as boost trade by eliminating/drastically reducing import duties on goods and bringing down ‘barriers’ in the services sector. The 16 nations account for a combined GDP of close to $50 trillion (or about 40% of the world’s GDP) and are home to around 3.5 billion people.
•After a day-long meeting, the ‘People’s Resistance Forum against FTAs and RCEP’ — an umbrella body representing farmers, industrial workers and service sector employees, street vendors, HIV-positive persons, tribals, environmental activists and women’s organisations, among others — said in a statement that the RCEP would have wide-ranging impact on agriculture, services, access to medicines, investment and e-commerce. Therefore, the government should place the details of the negotiations before the public and hold extensive and meaningful consultations with all stakeholders including the states, it said. Or else, India should immediately withdraw from RCEP negotiations, it added.
•Yogendra Yadav of the Swaraj Abhiyan and the All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee — who participated in the meeting here to protest the secrecy surrounding the RCEP negotiations — told The Hindu that “the final agreement might have pluses and minuses, but we should not be waiting till then to know whether it benefits only the big corporates and if it harms the interests of the farmers and small enterprises.’’
•He said, “when you can have the draft texts of even nuclear disarmament treaties in the public domain, what is the need to hide the draft text relating to the RCEP talks?” Mr Yadav said the process of scrutiny of FTAs involving India, including the RCEP, was extremely weak in the country. He said the government should immediately agree to a debate in Parliament on the pros and cons of the RCEP. “The RCEP should not be allowed to come into force till it is ratified by Parliament,” Mr Yadav added.
•Biswajit Dhar, professor, Jawaharlal Nehru University, said the RCEP had the potential to eliminate the policy space of the government to address developmental concerns, and that the decisions could adversely impact future generations.
•He said, “according to the government’s promises, these FTAs are good for the country and will raise incomes. If that is so, then why aren’t the people allowed to see and understand what is going on in the FTA negotiations? Why is there such secrecy surrounding an FTA negotiation in a country which claims itself to be democratic?”
•According to the People’s Resistance Forum against FTAs and RCEP, among the apprehensions regarding the RCEP is the one that it might include patents on seeds paving the way for control of the seed sector by multinational companies. It could lead to elimination of duties on milk products and result in huge imports of such items from countries including Australia and New Zealand, the Forum said, adding that such a situation would hit small dairy producers in India. Besides, it could allow foreign investors to sue governments in secret international arbitration cases under an Investor-State Dispute Settlement mechanism, the Forum added.

The boycott ban

Maharashtra’s law criminalising social ostracism is a template for other States
•Maharashtra’s new law prohibiting the social boycott of individuals, families or any community by informal village councils is a step in the right direction, given the pervasive nature of the problem. The progressive legislation, which received Presidential assent recently and was gazetted earlier this month, targets the pernicious practice of informal caste panchayats or dominant sections using ostracism as a means of enforcing social conformity. The Maharashtra Protection of People from Social Boycott (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2016, may serve as a template for similar legislation in other States. The Act lists over a dozen types of actions that may amount to ‘social boycott’, which has been made a criminal offence punishable with imprisonment up to three years or a fine of Rs. 1 lakh or both. The practices it prohibits range from preventing the performance of a social or religious custom, denial of the right to perform funerals or marriages, cutting off someone’s social or commercial ties to preventing access to educational or medical institutions or community halls and public facilities, or any form of social ostracism on any ground. The law recognises the human rights dimension to issues of social boycott, as well as the varied forms in which it occurs in a caste-based society. Its progressive sweep takes into account discrimination on the basis of morality, social acceptance, political inclination, sexuality, which it prohibits. It even makes it an offence to create cultural obstacles by forcing people to wear a particular type of clothing or use a particular language.
•This is not the first law of its type. Bombay enacted a law against excommunication in 1949, but it was struck down by the Supreme Court in 1962 after the Dawoodi Bohra community successfully argued that it violated the community’s constitutional right to manage its own religious affairs. One hopes the latest Act will not be vulnerable to legal challenge. Article 17 of the Constitution and the Protection of Civil Rights Act outlaw untouchability in all its forms, but these are legal protections intended for the Scheduled Castes. In reality, members of various castes and communities also require such protection from informal village councils and gatherings of elders who draw on their own notions of conformity, community discipline, morality and social mores to issue diktats to the village or the community to cut off ties with supposedly offending persons and families. The case of a mountaineer from Raigad is somewhat notorious. He had conquered Mt. Everest but could not escape a social boycott in his village because his wife wore jeans and did not wear a mangalsutra. It is not a proud moment for a country when special legislation is required to prohibit social discrimination, ostracism and practices repugnant to human dignity. Yet, given the prevailing circumstances, any legislative assault on abhorrent social practices ought to be welcomed.

Taming inflationary expectations

Who’d have thought under the MPC, the first case of deviation of the inflation rate would undershoot the target?
•The official inflation rate dipped to 1.5% last month, the lowest in almost two decades. Inflation is a politically more sensitive challenge than joblessness for the simple reason that it affects everyone, whether you have a job or not.
•India’s long-term record in managing inflation has been very impressive when compared with most developing countries. We have never had the bouts of hyperinflation experienced in many Latin American economies or seen even in countries such as Israel. The relatively high double-digit inflation experienced between 2010 to 2013 was an aberration, which had a political consequence. There have been very few instances of such persistent, multi-year, high inflationary episodes in our history. The credit for this goes to the vigilance of the political system and also to effective monetary management. Inflation is after all a monetary phenomenon — more money chasing fewer goods. So, controlling money supply is part of the strategy for controlling inflation.
Food prices as indicator
•But inflation is also an indicator of whether there is an excess demand or supply of goods. For instance, with a bumper crop of fruits and vegetables, prices plunge, even though money supply might be unchanged. Indeed, the recent drop in the inflation rate has been caused by a steep fall in the prices of vegetables (-17%) and pulses (- 22%). Conversely, and rather ironically, unseasonal rains in the north have destroyed a large part of the tomato crop causing prices to skyrocket. Food prices, especially of perishables, are notoriously volatile. High onion prices, even if temporary, have caused the downfall of governments in past elections. Food prices are a big component in the determinant of the overall inflation rate based on the consumer price index basket. Keeping them low and stable involves policies such as public procurement and a minimum support price regime. Inflation control thus involves a combination of monetary management along with measures to increase supply of goods (in the medium term) as also anti-hoarding measures or the release of stocks from government warehouses.
•Even though price stability is an important goal of government policy, it is now an exclusive mandate given to the Reserve Bank of India (RBI). Last year, in a landmark reform of monetary management, the government officially gave an inflation target to the RBI. Prior to this, the central bank had multiple objectives which included enhancing growth and reducing unemployment, although price stability was undoubtedly paramount. The new paradigm, called the “flexible inflation targeting” framework, aims for a numerical target given by the government. The main tool to achieve it is by setting the benchmark interest rate. This decision is now taken by the six-member monetary policy committee (MPC), chaired by the Governor. The current inflation target is 4% plus or minus 2%. The MPC is deemed to have failed if for three consecutive quarters the inflation rate falls outside the band.
Low inflation pointer
•Who would have imagined that in the new MPC regime, the first instance of deviation of the inflation rate would undershoot, not overshoot the target? Of course, technically, the MPC has not failed, for the June inflation rate of 1.5%, which is below 2%, may be transitory. However, there are strong indications and forecasts by many economists that point to low inflation in the coming months. Those numbers may be in the range of 2 to 4%.
•How did we get to this low inflation scenario? Partly it must be because the money supply has been kept “dear”, or tight. Thus, the benchmark rate (called the repo rate, or the rate at which the RBI gives money to banks) at 6.25% may be too high. Interest rates are the “price” of money, so if they are too high, money becomes scarce. If it is lowered, then there will be more money in circulation, more loans given out. But low inflation is also because of a steep fall in prices of fruits, vegetables and pulses, none of which was caused by high interest rates. These steep falls are highly seasonal. We have also benefited from low and stable crude oil prices, which are a crucial determinant of transport and energy costs.
•All eyes will now be on the MPC which meets again in less than two weeks. There is a strong feeling that high interest rates have deterred big industrial investments, or housing finance. High rates are crippling borrowers who try to come out of near-bankruptcy and are preventing a restructuring of stressed bank loans. India’s real interest rates, i.e. net of inflation, are quite high even compared to other developing countries. Much of the developed world has ultra-low rates, with some countries such as Sweden, Switzerland and Japan even having negative interest rates. India needs much lower rates for higher GDP growth.
•But the job of the MPC won’t be easy. This is mainly because its task is to target future inflation, not the past. The future has some troubling portents. The short run impact of the Goods and Services Tax (GST) is bound to be inflationary. That’s because a bulk of India’s GDP is in services whose tax rate has moved from 15% to 18%. Besides, while sellers wait for their refund, i.e. input tax credit under the GST, their cost of capital locked up might go up. Many State governments have introduced additional levies to counter their apprehension of a loss of revenue under the GST. Besides the GST, there is the impact of the award of the Seventh Pay Commission to government employees. This effect will cascade to public sector organisations and State-level employees as well, and put pressure on prices. A third factor could be the loan waivers announced in some States which can cause fiscal stress. High deficit spending is not compatible with lower interest rates. A fourth factor is the uptick in commodity prices worldwide as metals and food prices are looking up.
•The last, and probably the most important, factor weighing on the MPC’s mind would be inflation expectations. Household surveys conducted by the RBI indicate that people are expecting inflation to be close to 10% , not the 1.5% as is reported now. You may say that these expectations are irrational, but they do affect behaviour. In this season of salary increments, try giving someone a raise of 2%, as is common in the developed world. Workers will howl. Even their official dearness allowance is much higher. The real challenge is to slay this inflation expectations monster. In much of the western world, they are fighting disinflation if not outright deflation. But in India we are still struggling with inflationary conditions and expectations.
•In English the verb for inflation is inflate. It refers to rising prices. But in most Indian languages, the equivalent word in usage is “ mehengaai ”, which refers to affordability and cost of living. Not all inflation is unwelcome. So if stock prices go up, that is good cheer. But “ mehengaai ” is hated by all. A low and stable inflation rate is a perquisite for sustained high economic growth. Mehengaai is antithetical to it. In the medium term, the growth impact of the GST, the improving ease of doing business — and hence increasing supply of goods — and a strong domestic currency, will all help keep inflation low. But the short run challenge is to temper inflationary expectations and keep them tethered.

The Hindu Notes July 23, 2017

A Sunderbans denizen staves off extinction

The Northern river terrapin has clung on tenaciously
•A critically endangered resident of the Sunderbans is set to get a new home, beginning a slow journey to recovery from a disastrous decline in the wild. It is more threatened than the Bengal tiger, but far less known.
•Before winter this year, three fresh water ponds in the Sunderbans Tiger Reserve will house the rare Northern river terrapin ( Batagur baska ), whose presence in the wild in West Bengal and Odisha had declined to undetectable levels a decade ago.
•Batagur baska , the 60-cm-long turtle that is presumed extinct in several Southeast Asian countries, is classified as critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature ( IUCN) in its Red List of threatened species. The tiger, by comparison, is endangered.
•For the past ten years, officials of the Sunderban Tiger Reserve with support from experts at Turtle Survival Alliance (TSA), have coordinated a recovery program for what is described as the world’s second most endangered turtle, through captive conservation breeding. The Yangtze giant soft shell turtle, Rafetus swinhoei , is considered the most endangered freshwater turtle.
Needs other homes
•While conservation breeding to save the Northern river terrapin is ranked among the best programmes, Ravi Kant Sinha, Chief Wildlife Warden and Principal Chief Conservator of Forests, West Bengal, said it would be bad management to put all eggs in one basket. Having more sites to breed is a natural extension of the ongoing effort, he said.
•The terrapin, which has a river estuarine habitat, has had a lucky spell in recent years. Nilanjan Mallick, the field director of the Sunderban reserve said there was not much early success in the breeding programme, but things looked up after 2012.
•“The number of turtles at Sajnekhali is well over 200. This year alone we got 87 hatchlings,” Mr. Mallick said.
•The field director of STR said the decision to get a new enclosure for the breeding programme would protect the species against natural risks, and also facilitate genetic management. Last year, forest officials and the TSA reintroduced ten turtles into the wild, using acoustic transmitters to monitor their progress.

China media set much store by NSA visit

In a shift in tone, state media said both countries ‘need to enhance communication and nurture trust’
•In a shift from the harsh rhetoric of the past weeks, Chinese state media on Friday hoped that next week’s visit to China by National Security Adviser Ajit Doval will help end the Doklam crisis and advance China-India ties.
•“Despite concerns on possible military clashes, Chinese experts reached by the Global Times on Friday said they hoped that the upcoming visit of Indian National Security Adviser Ajit Doval would serve as an opportunity to ease the tension,” an article in the state-run tabloid said, quoting Ma Jiali, a research fellow from a Beijing-based think tank, China Reform Forum.
•Mr. Ma is a veteran academic, who has been engaged in Track-2 diplomacy with India following former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s visit to Beijing in 1988.
•Mr. Doval will participate in a two-day BRICS event starting on July 27.
Key visit
•The NSA’s visit will be key to solving the current dispute and if the two sides failed to reach some agreement on the issue, the China-India ties would be severely damaged, Mr. Ma observed.
•The daily prefaced the anticipation of Mr. Doval’s visit by slamming remarks by BJP leader R.K. Singh, who had reportedly opposed changing the status quo in Doklam, on grounds that it would endanger India’s vital interests.
Better communication
•But striking a remarkably conciliatory note ahead of Mr. Doval’s visit, a commentary by state-run Xinhua news agency underscored that both countries “need to enhance communication and nurture trust between them, first by recognising that the two are not born rivals and that harbouring ill will against each other is dangerous”.
•The focus on enhancing communication echoes recent observations by former National Security Adviser Shivshankar Menon. In a recent interview with The Hindu , Mr. Menon stressed that India and China “since the ’80s been rubbing up against each other in the periphery we share”.
•Mr. Menon added: “So we do need a new strategic dialogue to discuss how we should sort out problems.”
•The Xinhua commentary pointed out that the recent border issue “shows a lack of strategic trust on the Indian side”.
Economic ties
•However, it highlighted that as “the two countries are the world’s biggest potential markets, each with over a billion people, they could develop complementary industries and cooperate in protecting common security”.
•“Working together, China and India could build something unprecedentedly wonderful for not just themselves, but the whole region and the world.”
•The write-up pointed out that the Asian continent would be a big loser if the China-Indian rivalry cements. “Obviously the two would pay a heavy price first of all. Even Japan, the U.S. ally who relies heavily on the Chinese market, would suffer an economic blow, which could turn into a domestic crisis.”
•“Most economies, including those in the West, will find themselves negatively affected by an India-China war in a globalised and intertwined world today,” it observed.
•“The only beneficiaries (of a conflict), sadly, will be opportunists, short-sighted nationalist politicians who don’t really have the people’s interests in heart. And the dream of an Asian century would become a puff of wind.”

is Iran growing its presence in Iraq?

What is Iran doing in Iraq?
•After the U.S. withdrew its troops from Iraq in 2011, Baghdad became increasingly dependent on Tehran on various avenues, from trade to security, which raised Iran’s global profile. Iran established a Shia corridor stretching from Tehran through Baghdad and Damascus to southern Lebanon where Hezbollah operates. But Iran’s strategic calculations came under threat when the Islamic State made inroads into north-western Iraq.
•The IS, which is anti-Shia, captured Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, in June 2014 and was marching towards Baghdad. Had the IS taken over Baghdad, Iran would not only have lost a friendly regime, but also felt the heat of an anti-Shia jihadist group closer to its borders. Its focus immediately turned to building Shia militia groups, along with the Iraqi government, to fight the IS in Iraq. These groups, known as Popular Mobilisation Unites, or Al-Hashd al-Shaabi, have played a major role in the liberation of Iraqi cities, such as Ramadi, Fallujah and Mosul, from IS rule.
How did Iran gain entry?
•If there’s one country in West Asia that benefited from the United States’ 2003 invasion of Iraq, it was Iran. For the Islamic Republic, which fought an eight-year-long war with Iraq in 1980-88, Saddam Hussein’s regime remained a security concern. In the pre-Iraq war scenario, Syria was the only stable ally of Iran, but both countries were separated by a hostile Iraq. Iran had started building influence inside Iraq through its cross-border cultural and religious links, but even that had limitations as the Saddam regime turned against Iraq’s Shias in the aftermath of the first Gulf War. The U.S.-led invasion removed this hostile regime and practically opened the gates of Iraq to an ambitious Iran ruled by Shia clergy.
•Iraq is a Shia-majority country, which Saddam Hussein’s secular Ba’ath party ruled for decades with an iron fist. When the post-Saddam Iraq held the country’s first free elections in 2005, Shia parties, most of which had had long-standing relations with Iran, rose to power. Ever since, Iran’s influence in Iraq has only grown — first as a counterforce to the American occupation and then as a security provider to the Iraqi government.
Why is Iraq crucial for Iran?
•Iran doesn’t have many allies in a region which is dominated by hostile Sunni powers. Iran counters this asymmetry in geopolitical leverage by building influence with non-state actors. Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shia militia, is one of its greatest strategic assets in West Asia. With a friendly government in Baghdad, Iran not only got a buffer between itself and the Sunni bloc, but also direct access to Syria, which has been a conduit for Iranian supplies for Hezbollah. But in the immediate aftermath of the Iraq war, it was not clear whether Tehran would be able to successfully cultivate dominance in Iraq. The presence of over 1,00,000 U.S. soldiers posed a direct challenge to Iran’s ambitions.
•The George Bush administration had also lumped Iran with Iraq and North Korea as the “axis of evil” and had threatened it with military action. Against that context, the Iranian strategy was to make the U.S. occupation costly. It supported Shia militias in Iraq’s south, while Sunni terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda in Iraq attacked both Shias and U.S. soldiers in the north. The Iranian strategy was partly successful as the U.S. eventually withdrew most of its troops from Iraq, but only after the invasion and the subsequent sectarian civil war ravaged the country.
Will Iran pull back?
•Now that the Iraqi government has declared the defeat of the IS, will Iran withdraw its militias and let Baghdad run the country on its own? Given Iran’s strategic ambitions and the recent history of its dominance in Iraq, it’s unlikely to happen. On the contrary, at a time when the U.S. and the Sunni monarchies in the Gulf are teaming up against Iran, Tehran would try to deepen its relations with countries such as Iraq and Syria and non-state militias such as Hezbollah and Hashd al-Shaabi. Al-Shaabi, comprising some 40 militia groups that are loyal to Tehran, could translate its military influence into political clout, which will be crucial as Iraq goes to the polls next year. This explains why the Iraqi political leadership hardly expresses any views critical of Iran.

The mimetic, the mythic and the theoretic

Those immersed in myths, rituals should value the social uses of reason, but secular rationalists must also acknowledge the role of myth and ritual in their lives
•One of the least understood functions of critical reflection is to reconcile conflicting viewpoints, to find common ground between positions that appear to be polar opposites. One such opposition exists between the secular and the religious. Since religion is usually associated with myth and ritual, and the secular with science and reason-directed theory, I wish here to question the polarity between myth and ritual on the one hand and science/theory on the other.
•To do so, I take help from the work of the evolutionary psychologist, Merlin Donald. He argues that over time, sequentially, human beings have developed three distinct cultural capacities by which to understand the human and non-human world. The first such capacity, called mimetic, developed almost two million years ago, stored directly in skills and is largely performative. Here, we use our bodies not only to communicate with each other by expressive gestures (anger or joy on our face; eyebrow and head movements to say ‘no’) but also to collectively enact past, present and future events (the coronation of the king, the shraddha ceremony for ancestors, wearing white clothes in mourning rituals).
•A second capacity that developed 1,00,000-2,50,000 years ago is our ability for grammatical language and to construct oral narratives. To tell stories, folk tales and moral fables; to freely use our imagination to make sense of how we and our world originated and what might happen to us when we or our world dies; to imagine ‘heaven’ and ‘hell’, utopias or dystopias on or beyond earth. These are fact-defying, imaginative constructs, replete with fictitious events, fantasy, archetypical figures, heroes and villains. Donald calls this capacity mythic.
•Finally, a third capacity developed 3,000-5,000 years ago, with which we are able to step back and look beyond what we experience and live, conceive a world outside or deep within us, a world unearthed by disengaged reason, free of our own personal, subjective properties — an objective world. It is a form of abstract thinking that takes us beyond our immediate context and allows us to think with a greater degree of generality. Dependent on the written word, it encourages us to think about thinking: to discern the internal structure of arguments, to unearth the assumptions and presuppositions of our thought. This is thinking with controlled imagination, with constraints of evidence and rational argument. In short, the world of science, argumentative philosophy, and abstract reasoning — which Donald calls ‘the theoretic’.
Compartmentalising our lives
•That these three capacities can sometimes work against each other is not in question but what creates polarity between them is an ideology that makes them mutually exclusive, which claims that each succeeding capacity is superior and properly emerges when the previous, inferior capacity is abolished. Thus a move to a higher theoretical stage of reason-based science and philosophy necessitates leaving behind a lower mythic and mimetic stage. A theoretic culture is achieved by eliminating the vestigial elements of the mythic and the mimetic.
•Despite this ideology, some of us try to resolve this conflict by compartmentalising our lives. This has taken two forms. One is found in the lives, for instance, of some scientists, engineers, doctors and economists. In their research or techno-professional life, they allow the supremacy of hard-nosed reason. In their personal, social and political life, they let religious myths and rituals rule. The other is found in educated, anti-religious, secular-minded persons. They dismiss myths and rituals as features of a bygone era and live most aspects of their life as if governed by reason alone, but they allow the mimetic to survive in sport, theatre and dance and the mythic to endure in novels, poetry and films, in art and entertainment.
•But such solutions are patchy and unsatisfactory. They continue to be mired in deep misunderstanding. In fact, as Donald tells us, these three capacities have emerged sequentially — one came after and on the shoulders of the other but without destroying its predecessor. It modified, not replaced it. Moreover, they are not hierarchically related. Each makes a distinctive and complementary contribution to human understanding. The truth is that all of us, regardless of whether we are religious or secular, partake in all three cultures — mimetic, mythic and theoretic. Each one of us deploys these three cultural capacities to varying degrees. The modern mind remains a complex mix of mimetic, mythic and theoretical elements.
•Take the mimetic. We have wedding rituals to reinforce mutual commitment; commemorative rituals such as keeping a two-minute silence at 11 o’clock on January 30 each year to not forget Gandhi’s sacrifice. Why? Because rituals play a crucial role in underlining the collective significance of an act or bring stability in human interactions that are ephemeral and may otherwise fall apart. Ever seen a singles tennis match ending without the ritual of players hugging each other or shaking hands to express that their rivalry is over and they are friends once again? Modern, secular lives are also governed by myths. Our popular culture is mythic — it cares two hoots for reason or evidence, fictitiously connects disparate events, and influences us by heroic exemplars such as the mythical angry young man. Why, even ‘scientific’ economics generates myths such as that of the rational economic man!
•In short, secular rationalists — theoretically minded scientists and professionals — would do well to acknowledge the continuing hold of myths and rituals in their lives. But equally, those immersed in religious myth and ritual must value not only scientific reason but also the social uses of reason in clarifying meaning, unearthing beliefs and pictures that have receded into the background, finding or generating common ground for discussion and mutual understanding, for reconciliation.

The space between belief and disbelief

The concept of an unknowable god roots us in our humanity, but also makes it possible for us to strive for more
•I recently witnessed an acrimonious debate between a New Atheist and a couple of religious people (a Muslim and a Christian, actually). The New Atheist wanted to prove that god did not exist, and the Muslim and Christian believers were just as adamant that god existed. Finally, as often happens, all three turned to the non-participant in the room, and asked him to adjudicate. That was, alas, me.
•I did not want to answer them. It is usually my policy not to comment on matters of belief and disbelief, both of which tend to be put in highly reductive terms. But they insisted. So, I gave them an honest answer: “You cannot disbelieve in god without having the concept of god, and you cannot have any conception of god without disbelieving in god.” Thankfully, they thought I was being facetious and continued their discussion without me.
•But I am convinced that the main divide runs not between religion and atheism but through each of them. Thinking atheists and thinking religious believers actually share a lot, just as half-thinking atheists and half-thinking believers share a lot too.
Beyond form-time-space
•While all religions finally deal with some personification of deity — incarnation, son of god, names or attributes of god, etc. — all religions also have a similar concept of god as beyond human comprehension of form-time-space, and as unchanging and impossible to fully define. Even so-called ‘primitive’ tribes worshipping totems have this concept, for the totem is not just a plant or an animal but something more than just that plant or animal.
•In other words, the concept of god eludes human imagination and language. One of the first modern thinkers to try to go beyond the unnecessary antagonism of religion and science was the German Oxford University don, Friedrich Max Müller. In the 1870s, he explained the concept of gods, ranging from those in Vedic India to classical Greece, by arguing that these were powerful forces of nature that got personified in language over the centuries. So, initially, Apollo meant just the Sun, but later Apollo got constructed as a male god, with increasing human (and superhuman) attributes.
•Max Müller’s version has long been dismissed in intellectual circles, but he had made a valid incidental point: the concept of god eludes human constructions, including those of language. Whatever we say about god does not exhaust the concept of god, and hence our beliefs can only be personal. They cannot be imposed on others. As the medieval Sufi poet, Rumi, suggests in one of his poems, any person’s conception of god can be valid only for that person; to pass it on to another person (by persuasion, argument or force) is to pass on what cannot be communicated, what is bound to be reduced in language. Many major religious thinkers have seen this too: the Muslim Avicenna or Ibn Sina (11th century) and the Christian Thomas Aquinas (13th century), among others.
•The opposition to images of divinity that we find in iconoclastic religions, most obdurately Islam, is a consequence of this realisation. The divine, such religions argue, cannot be given a human shape. Hence, we have the Taliban blowing up the ancient statues of the Bamiyan Buddhas in Afghanistan in 2001. Incidentally, though, this does not get us out of the conundrum: there is not that much of a difference between imagining god in human or animal shapes and attributing human (or animal) attributes to god.
•When we say that god is merciful or loving, we use a human concept to talk of god; it is not entirely different from saying that god is blue or wears a crown of thorns. This was the hidden gem in Max Müller’s perception: we can imagine anything only through language and our own experiences, and hence there is a tendency to personify the concept of god. It is a bit like saying that a quantum particle is both wave and particle and neither wave nor particle. What we mean is that we cannot really imagine quantum particles except by using what we have experienced in life and language: waves and particles.
•The concept of god is exactly this point, which escapes our imagination. We need it for two main reasons. One, because it is only by situating ourselves between the knowable and the unknowable that we become human. Two, because to let go of the concept runs the risk of reducing everything to the known (which is sacrilege for the truly religious and hubris for the truly scientific) or to give up our claim on that which exceeds our current understanding. The concept of an unknowable god roots us in our humanity, but also makes it possible for us to strive for more — including more knowledge, which only comes with the knowledge that we do not and cannot have perfect knowledge (which belongs only to ‘god’).
•That is why thinking atheists cannot do away with the concept of god. That is also why the religious cannot claim to know god. We become human in exactly that space where we are not animals (whose possibility of knowledge is restricted to what they already know) and where we are never ‘god’ (whose possibility of knowledge is complete and infinite).

Chunna Miyan ka Mandir

The everlasting story of Bareilly’s Fazlur Rahman
•In 1889, a baby was born in Bareilly, a town in present-day Uttar Pradesh, on Janmashtami, in the house of Maulana Mohammed Hussain Ilmi, a religious scholar. The Maulana’s grandson was named Fazlur Rahman and lovingly called Chunna.
•Little Chunna lost both parents at a very young age and was taken by his relatives to the village. They were living in straitened conditions but the heart and mind was rich. A burning desire to be independent led the boy back to Bareilly. Seeing a spark in him, his neighbour, Lala Gujartai Lal, whom he called Dadaji, gave him two rupees to start some venture. The boy started selling small items in a basket hanging from his neck. According to his grandson Shamsur Rahman, he sold matchsticks, beedis and candles, and was soon in a position to return the loan, though Lalaji didn’t take it back, encouraging him to aim higher.
•Fazlur Rahman soon went into the beedi business himself, and went on to become a millionaire with properties all over Bareilly.
Land for refugees
•Chunna, now Seth Fazlur Rahman aka Chunna Miyan, also owned a large piece of prime land in Katra Manrai, near Bara Bazar. In the wake of Partition in 1947, many refugees came to Bareilly. The Bara Bazar area is an old market and residential area. They settled there and set up a small temple on the empty land nearby.
•When Chunna Miyan came to know of this, he first asked them to vacate. When those attempts failed, he filed a case against them.
•Around the same time, a priest, Muni Harmilap ji Maharaj, from Haridwar held a satsang , which he attended. The Muniji emphasised, “There is only one Parmatma and every human is His santan (offspring), whether they be male or female, Hindu, Muslim, Bodh, Jain, Sikh, Christian or Jew or Shinto (Japanese).” These spiritual words found a connect with Chunna Miyan, and he had a change of heart. He not only withdrew his case, but also compensated the refugees for the cost incurred by them in litigation so far.
•Along with the land, he donated Rs. 1,10,001 for its construction, as is enshrined in the marble tablet that has a list of donors. In fact, he leads the list with “Chacha Chunna Miyan” written in brackets next to his given name. He would come here daily to do shram dan (physical labour) and it was he who put in the first basket of mud when the foundation was dug.
•Last year, I was in Bareilly for Muharram, when the world over the followers of Imam Hussain, the Prophet’s grandson, mourn his martyrdom in various ways, including by wearing black clothes. In between attending the various functions organised during the first ten days of the month of Muharram, I also visited a Lakshmi Narayan temple nearby about which I had heard much. A beautiful and colourful façade met me. A replica of the Ashoka lion capital is installed at the entrance.
•I entered a serene, spacious and beautifully built hall. The garbhagriha (sanctum sanctorum) housing Lord Lakshmi Narayan and his consort was closed as pujatime was over, but I wandered around elsewhere till I found a priest who showed me around and told me its history.
•When I told the pandit I had come from Delhi to visit the mandir (I was dressed completely in black, so easily identifiable), he asked, “Inki wajah se (because of him)?” He pointed to a photograph of an impeccably dressed man in a sherwani and a topi, carrying the idol on his head, a tilak on his forehead and garlands around his neck, which occupied pride of place in the temple. I smiled and said, “Yes.”
•Panditji then told me about Chunna Miyan and how he went personally to Jaipur to get the idols of Lakshmi Narayan and his consort and brought them to the temple.
•The temple was inaugurated on May 13, 1960 by the President of India, Rajendra Prasad. It is a beautiful symbol of our syncretic culture.
•Chunna Miyan was, as his grandson Shamsur Rahman, tells me, “not just a charming face, but someone who had a heart full of compassion and always ready to extend a helping hand to the needy.” He went on to fund the Fazlur Rahman Islamic College and established the commerce block for Bareilly College. He also built a road in front of Asia’s first women’s hospital, Clara Swain Mission Hospital, and gave land for a gurdwara on Nainital Road when he heard the local Sikhs wanted to build one there. The Sikh community was insistent they pay for it, so he took a nominal token.
•Chunna Miyan, often called ‘Bareilly’s Gandhi’, was indeed Ekta ka Prakash , as a biography on him by Dr. Nirmal, and shared with me by his grandson Shakeb Rahman, is titled.
•He left the world poorer on December 23, 1968.

‘Huge opportunities in healthcare in next 25 years’

‘IPO funds will be used for new projects in India’
•Aster DM Healthcare plans a large IPO later this year to scale up Indian operations.
•“We will treat you well” is the tagline promise of Aster DM Healthcare, which runs several hospitals, clinics and pharmacies in nine countries — mainly in West Asia and India. The Dubai-based Azad Moopen , the founding chairman and managing director of the company, said he believed the trust of patients, employees and governments was the key factor behind the group’s success. The soft-spoken Dr. Moopen, 64, hails from Kerala’s Malappuram district. A Padma Shri and a Pravasi Bharatiya Samman winner, he is now one of the most prominent Indian businessmen in the Gulf. The Arabian Business magazine ranks him among the 50 richest Indians in the Gulf. To scale up its operations in India, Aster is planning an Initial Public Offering later this year.Edited excerpts from an interview:
Why should cash-rich Aster go for an IPO?
•We are planning a massive expansion of our healthcare network in India. We have a dozen hospitals, a medical college and a nursing college in India, mainly in the South. We want to build as well as acquire more multi-speciality hospitals in the metros and major cities across the country. As of now, 80% of the group’s revenues comes from outside India. We now want to focus on India. The entire proceeds from the IPO will be used to fund new projects in India.
What will be the issue size?
•At this stage, I can’t give out the specifics. But it will be a large issue reflecting at least one tenth of the market capitalisation of the company.
•The issue could be upwards of $200 million. It will be listed on the BSE. Foreign bankers to the issue will be Merryll Lynch and Goldman Sachs, apart from the Indian banks Kotak Mahindra and Axis.
You have a large healthcare network in the Gulf where the business environment is friendlier than in India. Why, then, the focus on India?
•We see huge opportunities in the healthcare sector in the next quarter century in India. As the country progresses economically and technologically, people want better, advanced treatments. Purchasing capacity is also going up.
•Medical insurance coverage is expanding rapidly. The self-pay mode is fast changing. The government is stepping up healthcare coverage. All these are increasing affordability.
•On the other hand, morbidity is increasing. Even small villages are in the grip of lifestyle diseases. Infectious diseases are making a big comeback even in States like Kerala. And, longevity is rising.
•The longer you live, your healthcare costs will be disproportionately higher. And, the population is expanding, too.
•So, in the next 25 years, there will be a sharp rise in the demand for medical care in the country.
How did the Aster brand evolve?
•When I went to Dubai in 1987 after teaching medicine at Calicut Medical College for some years, I set up a one-doctor clinic called Dr. Moopen’s Clinic. I had a flourishing practice.
•Then, I set up a string of clinics and a large number of pharmacies in the UAE and other Gulf countries. These had different names. In 2007, we decided on rebranding these companies under a single brand. I was keen on a neutral name with a universal appeal. ‘Aster’ sounded great. Thus was born Aster DM Healthcare (DM stands for Dr. Moopen’s).
•The brand established itself very quickly. The tagline ‘We will treat you well’ came later. People trust us, our promise and the brand.
•You have a reputation of being a philanthropist…
•I have set apart 20% of my assets and income annually for helping others. We have a family foundation that mainly channels the aid.
•We also did our bit in helping Syrian refugees in Jordan and in food shipments to Sudan.

A quicker, novel approach to cancer drug discovery

Molecules that bind to DNA nanotemplates were chosen for further study
•Scientists at the Indian Association for the Cultivation of Science, Jadavpur, Kolkata, have used a novel approach to drug discovery by attaching or linking a DNA sequence of interest to gold-coated magnetic nanoparticles and picking those molecules that target and bind to the DNA sequence for further study. This approach helps in rapid identification of potential DNA binding molecules for cancer therapy. The results were published in the journal Nature Communications.
•G-quadruplexes are four-stranded DNA structures found in human genome, for example, the presence of G-quadruplexes in cancer-causing gene c-MYC. Since G-quadruplexes are involved in regulation of the gene expression, there is increased interest in finding molecules that target them.
•The traditional approach is to synthesise compounds and study their interactions with drug targets before choosing the best drug molecules. This is both time consuming and laborious.
•So a team led by Prof. Jyotirmayee Dash from the Department of Organic Chemistry at IACS first immobilised the G-quadruplex DNA on to gold-coated magnetic nanoparticles and left the target in a solution containing azide and alkyne functional groups.
Fragment selection
•The azide and alkyne fragments that are capable of binding to the adjacent sites of the G-quadruplex react with each other to produce triazole products. Theoretically, the combination of azide and alkyne fragments can generate 66 triazole products. “Since the G-quadruplex itself selects the azide and alkyne building blocks, only three triazole compounds were formed that can interact with the G-quadruplex target. The unreacted fragments could be easily removed,” says Prof. Dash who is the corresponding author of the paper. Prof. Dash is a recipient of DST’s Swarnajayanti Fellowship and carried out this work using this funding.
•When the nanoparticles are heated, the triazole products that are bound to the G-quadruplex target get detached and get into solution. Since the DNA-linked, gold-coated magnetic nanoparticles (DNA nanotemplates) are used, they can be separated from the solution using magnetic separation. “The DNA nanotemplates can be reused up to five times,” she says.
Anti-cancer properties

•The researchers found that of the three triazole compounds that selectively bound to the G-quadruplex target, one (Tz 1) was found in large proportion and was the only molecule that was obtained when the nanoparticle was recycled for the fourth and fifth time.

•“We found the Tz 1 molecule has remarkable anti-cancer properties. The molecule binds to the G-quadruplex and is able to switch off the c-MYC gene that gets over-expressed in breast, colon and lung cancer. This leads to inhibition of cancer growth and ultimately leads to death of cancer cells,” Prof. Dash says. “The molecule preferentially binds to the G-quadruplex DNA and not the duplex DNA. Further, the molecule selectively kills the cancer cells, without doing any harm to the normal cells.” “Based on the extremely high cellular activity of identified drug compound, we can conclude that this methodology using DNA nano-template allows easy synthesis of high-affinity drug molecules for the target DNA without performing any conventional drug synthesis procedures,” she says.
•“Though this study is a proof-of-concept, this approach can be used for economical and fast screening of potential drug candidates for other DNA targets, RNA and even proteins.”

With increasing urbanisation, invasive ants take over sacred groves

There was a significant variation between ant populations in the rural and urban groves
•As urbanisation spreads, battles are raging on holy lands: invasive ants are taking over the leaf litter in sacred groves.
•Sacred groves, known as devaru kadu in Kannada and kavu in Malayalam, are fragments of forests protected by local communities. Hunting and logging are not permitted here. The result is that many sacred groves still stand tall in urban areas as well. While these islands of forest are crucial refugia for local wildlife, are they still untouched by the effects of urbanisation around them?
•To find out, a team of scientists from the Central University of Kerala studied ant species richness and abundance in five sacred groves in both urbanised towns and rural villages in the Kannur and Kasargod districts of north Kerala. They set up pitfall traps – small containers embedded in the ground that ground-dwelling ants fall into – at specific locations, and listed the species and numbers of ants that fell in.
•The sacred groves were home to 32 ant species in total. Ant assemblages varied between urban and rural groves; while only five ant species were exclusive to urban groves, nine were exclusive to rural ones. Urban groves were home to larger numbers of ants, and habitat generalists as well as invasives (like the Yellow Crazy ant Anoplolepis gracilipes ) dominated leaf litter here, a clear indicator of human disturbance in the habitat.
•“Urban sacred groves supported greater numbers of the Yellow crazy ant,” Sinu P. A., who conducted the study says in an email to The Hindu
• “These do not bite us but damage our crops, are a pest of household items and prey on insects, bird hatchlings, crabs and other native species. In short, they replace native biodiversity.”
•Why could urban groves be showing such a significantly different pattern? New residents who migrate from elsewhere and live near sacred groves often dispose waste in the groves, says Sinu. “This might have been a reason for the increased abundance of generalist and invasive ants in urban sacred groves,” he says. Educating the local community about the value of forests could be crucial for conservation of sacred groves and their native biodiversity including minuscule ants, he adds.

Tiger reserves: Economic and environmental win-win

While commodifying nature may hurt our sensibilities, economic analysis helps determine the quantity of goods to be extracted by locals
•The headline in a recent PTI report “Saving 2 tigers gives more value than Mangalyaan”’ was intriguing, since it said that saving two tigers yields a capital benefit of Rs 520 crores, while Mangalyaan cost us Rs 450 crores. The headline was both exciting and hurtful. Excited by it, I contacted Professor Madhu Verma of the Indian Institute of Forest Management (IIFM), Bhopal, and she shared with me both a detailed report of 2015 titled: “Economic Evaluation of Tiger Reserves in India: A VALUE + Approach” (available free on the net as NTCA_Report 2015.pdf) and their recent research publication: “Making the Hidden Visible: Economic Valuation of Tiger Reserves in India” which appeared in the journal Ecosystem Services; 26 (2017): 236-244. Both were eye openers!
•Putting a price on Nature and commodifying it may hurt our sensibilities. On the other hand, the authors of the above paper point out that an economic analysis helps in determining the quantity of goods such as fuel wood, and fodder that can be allowed for extraction by local communities, based on trade-offs with other services. Such economic analysis also highlights why such “large” areas are reserved for preserving fierce animals like the tiger, when we need more land for human use.
•What is the total amount of land set apart for the 18 ranges as tiger reserves? It is 68,000 square km, which is about 2% of the area of India – set apart for the nation’s pride animal. A tiger reserve is not just for the tiger. The six reserves (Corbett, Kanha, Kaziranga, Periyar, Ranthambore, Sunderbans) that the team has studied house many other animals such as the elephant, rhino, langur, barasingha, mongoose, river dolphin, olive ridley turtle, crocodile — not to speak of the millions of herbs, plants and trees.
What is the point in saving tigers?
•Why save this ferocious animal at all? Tigers are what conservationists call “umbrella” species. By saving them, we save everything beneath their ecological umbrella – everything connected to them – including the world’s last great forests, whose carbon storage mitigates climate change. Vidya Venkat has written more about it in this newspaper of April 17, 2016.
•What all does a tiger reserve offer? The 2017 paper above lists the following: (1) employment generation, (2) agriculture (incidentally the famous IR-8 rice was discovered from the wild rice plants found in one such reserve), (3) fishing, (4) fuel wood, (5) fodder and grazing, (6) timber, (7) pollination of plants, (8) kendu leaves, (9) carbon storage and sequestration (vital for climate protection against global warming), (10) water and its purification by filtering organic wastes, (11) soil conservation, (12) nutrient cycling, and (13) moderation of extreme events such as cyclone storms, flash floods. Add to these cultural ones like tourism, education, research and development, and spiritual ones (like visiting temples within some of them).
•The approach, termed VALUE+, that the group uses has two components. The VALUE part indicates that the annual cost of putting together and maintaining the above six tiger reserves is about Rs 23 crores. But then, what about the “flow benefits”? Take the Periyar Tiger Reserve as an example. VALUE estimates that this Reserve generates Rs 17.6 billion (or Rs 1.9 lakhs per hectare) per year. How? For example it helps provide water to Tamilnadu districts, amount to Rs 4.05 billions /year. Or, take the famous Corbett Park (which is supposed to have the “maneaters of Kumaon”). Its flow benefit per year is Rs 14.7 billion (Rs 1.14 lakhs per hectare). And it provides water to some parts of Uttar Pradesh (at Rs 1.61 billion per year) and Delhi (Rs 530 million per year). In effect, the ratio of benefits to management costs is anywhere from 200 to 530. It is worth investing and managing reserves! And the + sign part in the study highlights benefits for which a monetary number is currently not possible (such as the “umbrella” mentioned above).
•Eye-openers, aren’t they? The should be made compulsory reading and analysis material for students in economics, business management, environmental sciences and biology. School children in cities should be taken to interact with children and parents near (and in) the reserve areas, and learn from (and respect) them. And we must support efforts to increase and sustain the budget for such reserves – after all they cost but a few crores of rupees per reserve per year. Let us express our deep appreciation to the scientists and conservationist (the unsung heroes and heroines) at the IIFM and similar agencies for their outstanding work!
•Now, why the hurt by the PTI headline which said that saving 2 tigers gives more value than Mangalyaan? I felt that this bizarre comparison mocks at ISRO’S efforts. In this connection, I am reminded of the remark made by the famous biochemist Professor Erwin Chargaff during my PhD viva voce exam. He said: “Young man! Why are you studying protein structure when you should be back in India, making sulfuric acid from hay?” What we need in India is both protein structure and sulphuric acid —both Tiger Reserves and Mangalyaan. The latter may not directly help the reserves, but ISRO’S satellite surveys certainly do. Thank you ISRO!

Phobos imaged by Hubble Space telescope

•NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope has beamed back images of the tiny Martian moon Phobos in its orbital trek around the red planet. Over the course of 22 minutes, Hubble took 13 separate images, allowing astronomers to create a time-lapse video showing the diminutive moon’s orbital path.
•The Hubble observations were intended to photograph Mars, and the moon’s cameo appearance was a bonus, scientists said. A football-shaped object of size just 26x21x17 kilometres, Phobos is one of the smallest moons in the solar system. The moon completes an orbit in just seven hours and 39 minutes, which is faster than Mars rotates. Rising in the Martian west, it runs three laps around the Red Planet in the course of one Martian day, which is about 24 hours and 40 minutes. It is the only natural satellite in the solar system that circles its planet in a time shorter than the parent planet’s day.
•About two weeks after the Apollo 11 manned lunar landing on July 20, 1969, NASA’s Mariner 7 flew by the Red Planet and took the first crude close-up snapshot of Phobos.