The decision of the Union Government to withdraw the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) from Meghalaya and from eight out of 16 police stations in Arunachal Pradesh is a welcome move. It indicates firm resolve to build on the constituency of peace that has taken roots in the region. It is notable that three years earlier Tripura also saw AFSPA being lifted after 18 years.
The Congress leadership of the Kashmir Valley and the National Conference (NC) took the opportunity to politically corner the ruling PDP-BJP dispensation. Their demand for revocation of the Act was based on the commitment made by the ruling coalition of taking appropriate steps towards revocation of the Act in the State. The response of the Government was articulated by Naeem Akhtar, the spokesperson of the Government. While terming the revocation of AFSPA from the north-eastern states as good news, he stressed upon the need to create conditions for its removal from the State. He also appealed for assistance from Pakistan in this direction
While indulging in the aforementioned political brinkmanship, and that too on the sensitive subject of security, the so-called leaders of Kashmir are doing a great disservice to their people. At this stage, when the security forces are gaining an upper hand against the evil forces aiding and abetting terrorism, such statements misguide the people and lower the morale of the forces. These statements are also missing out the main point! The decision to revoke AFSPA in certain areas of the North-East has been taken on the basis of a visible drop in levels of violence and insurgency in the two states. A similar situation is, by no means, obtainable in J&K.
There is a palpable national apprehension about revocation of AFSPA in J&K which is not without reason. The security forces have contained the high threshold of terrorism in the Valley with great difficulty and after buying a large number of fatal casualties, they simply cannot afford a reversal of the position of advantage that they have created with great effort.
The parameters that would facilitate revocation of the Act in J&K are not difficult to understand. One, there should not be a single terrorist, foreign or local, operating in the State; two, there should be no ceasefire violation; three, there should be no infiltration bid from across the border; four, the terror structure operating against India in Pakistan should be totally dismantled and terror mongers like Hafiz Saeed, Maulana Azhar, Syed Sallahudin should be put behind bars where they need to be; five, the separatists should give up their politics of divisiveness and disruption and agree to pursue gainful political activity under the Constitution of India; finally, the wounds inflicted on the psyche of the population due to decades of terrorism and violence should be filled and normal, peaceful, democratic activity should become a norm across the state
We must not forget that the Army got involved in operations in J&K, not of its own volition, but because of the deteriorated internal security situation caused by foreign interference. The soldiers would like nothing better than cessation of active operations in Kashmir and a return to barracks where they can enjoy the beauty of the Valley. One can only hope that such an environment becomes a reality at the earliest and what has been done in the North-east is repeated in the State.
India and Indonesia have started naval drills in 2017, but we can explore more. This will become even better when the Sabang seaport is established with India. Sabang port has a depth of 40 metres which is good even for submarines,” the minister, Luhut Pandjaitan
India and Indonesia have been discussing the idea of developing the port in Sabang, which currently has rudimentary facilities, since 2014-15. However, questions have been raised on the economic viability of the port
The island of Sabang is located 710 km southeast of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands and around 500 km from the Malacca Strait - a choke point which connects the eastern part of the Indian Ocean to the South China Sea. More than 30 per cent of the world’s seaborne trade passes through the Malacca Strait. Around 80 per cent of China’s energy supply (by sea) also reaches its ports through the strait, making the country heavily dependent on the narrow passage. Almost 40 per cent of India’s trade also passes through the strait. Therefore, increased Indian presence in the region around this strait is important for both security and economic benefits.
The Malacca Strait, along with other narrow passages in the area such as the Sunda and Lombok Straits, is also used by the People’s Liberation Army Navy to enter and leave the Indian Ocean. Access to a port close to these narrow channels will help India keep an eye on the movement of Chinese Navy vessels.
Indonesia’s proposal comes just days after India decided to station fighter jets of the Indian Air Force at the bases in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. India has also put in place a new naval strategy called ‘mission-based deployments’. Under this plan, the Navy deploys combat-ready ships and aircraft along important sea-lanes of communications and 'choke points' in the Indian Ocean to maintain a continuous presence and monitor activities of extra-regional powers.
Yesterday, a group of state finance ministers met in Andhra Pradesh to discuss the terms of reference (ToR) of the 15th Finance Commission (FC). Representatives from Punjab, Bengal and Delhi joined those from some south Indian states who initiated the meeting. This geographically diverse grouping disproves the ongoing narrative of friction between south and north in resource sharing. The anxiety is more about the Narendra Modi government’s attitude to tax devolution.
The Constitution gives the bulk of taxation power to the Centre, but leaves most of the responsibility for providing basic services to states. Consequently, it mandates the periodic creation of an FC to recommend a formula to split a part of central tax revenue with states. This mandate necessarily requires an uneven distribution of tax revenue between states. Poorer and more populous states get a larger share. Therefore, a state’s population influences its share in the devolution of taxes.
FCs are guided by the ToR set by the Centre. Controversy over the 15th FC’s ToR first erupted over the direction to use Census 2011 as the reference point for population. This upset some southern states, who are also unhappy with other aspects of ToR.
The controversy over choice of census has played out as a case of conflicting interests between better off southern states and poorer states in north India. There is no basis to this controversy. For four decades, Census 1971 has been the benchmark as it was in sync with the National Family Welfare Policy. The shift this time to Census 2011 has been interpreted as an intrinsic bias in ToR to help states in north India which have higher fertility rates. The Centre’s response, articulated by finance minister Arun Jaitley, is that the shift to 2011 will help poorer states.
The controversy over choice of census has played out as a case of conflicting interests between better off southern states and poorer states in north India. There is no basis to this controversy.
For four decades, Census 1971 has been the benchmark as it was in sync with the National Family Welfare Policy. The shift this time to Census 2011 has been interpreted as an intrinsic bias in ToR to help states in north India which have higher fertility rates. The Centre’s response, articulated by finance minister Arun Jaitley, is that the shift to 2011 will help poorer states.
UPA’s ToR for the previous commission, the 14th FC, gave it discretion to move beyond Census 1971 and account for subsequent demographic changes. Consequently, states in their presentations to 14th FC revealed the strength of their preference for 1971 and 2011 as a criterion to distribute taxes.
It’s impossible to discern a neat pattern that can lead to a conclusion that all southern states are disadvantaged by the shift to Census 2011, or that it helps all the poorer states. The reality is messy which makes the ToR crucial in finding a balance between conflicting interests of states. Therein lies the source of the current problem. The shoddy effort by NDA in designing the ToR as well as its underlying message seems to be the source of states’ anxiety.
A term of reference which best captures this anxiety is one which asks the 15th FC to keep in mind the impact of its predecessor’s recommendation to increase the unconditional tax devolution to states from 32% to 42%. This ToR suggests that the higher devolution is incompatible with the Centre’s financial need to fund development.
The backstory is that the 14th FC concluded that given the Centre’s obligations, it was not possible to increase the overall devolution from the divisible pool of taxes by more than two percentage points to 63.9%. But within this, it enhanced the unconditional transfer to states from 32% to 42%. The remaining money is transferred for earmarked spending.
This was termed path breaking by experts, giving a decisive momentum to federalism. Prior to 14th FC’s recommendation central governments, particularly during the UPA years, encroached into states’ domains through centrally sponsored schemes. Among other things, it restricted fiscal space of states who often protested. As Gujarat’s chief minister, Modi wanted unconditional devolution to the states to increase to 50%.
After becoming prime minister, Modi seems to have changed his mind. This should worry all chief ministers because when 15th FC’s ToR are seen in their entirety, there are unmistakable signs that NDA has the same approach as UPA. What’s worse now is that states have given up their unilateral taxation powers to facilitate GST.
This problem is aggravated in other ways. The ToR asks 15th FC to look at ways to incentivise states for “efforts and progress made in moving towards replacement rate of population growth”. Replacement level needs a total fertility rate (TFR) of 2.1. As many as 18 of 29 states have TFR of 2.1 or below, with two more states likely to join this list soon. Most states, therefore, will be ineligible for incentives as they have passed the point of “progress”.
The main problem, therefore, is not that the ToR are unfair to southern states. It isn’t. The disquiet has been caused by signs of Modi government’s reversion to fiscal centralisation and overall ineptness in designing the ToR. This has fed into an unrelated set of anxieties in south India. It’s now up to the 15th FC to untangle this knot
Gaza has been on the boil as thousands of Palestinians have attempted to charge the border fence into Israel and the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) have, predictably, responded with strength.
The Gaza protests, dubbed the Great March of Return by Hamas, started on 30 March and are supposed to last until 15 May, the day Palestinians commemorate as Nakba (catastrophe) Day. The purpose is manifold - to demand that Palestinian refugees be allowed to return to their lands in Israel, to protest the moving of the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, and to draw attention to the Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip. Palestinians participating in the protests have varied in number from around 5,000 to 15,000 except on the first day which saw a turnout of 30,000.
While the world paints the protests as peaceful and accuses Israel of using disproportionate force, the IDF maintains that the Palestinian demonstrations have been anything but peaceful and are a cynical and bloody ploy by Hamas to gain international sympathy and headlines by paying in Palestinian corpses. Interestingly, the loud international outcry has been drowned out in the muted response from Arab capitals
Hamas has also refused to accept Israeli humanitarian aid for the Palestinians injured in the clashes, reiterating their noxious brand of politics: the Gaza circus would only get international attention if there are enough casualties to merit a place in Western newspaper columns
Responsibility for the loss of life in Gaza over the past six weeks lies entirely at the feet of Hamas. It cannot be reasonably expected that the IDF sit back and allow tens of thousands of demonstrators to approach the border and breach the security fence, attack farms, crossing points, infrastructure, and Israelis. Anyone saying otherwise is either naïve or performing for a select audience.
The Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code (IBC) appears likely to deliver in spades for the Modi government, both economically and politically. Not only are many major cases close to resolution, recent reports suggest that in many cases banks may take no haircut at all.
No haircut means the government can say banks recovered all the money lent to defaulters – and/or cronies fed during the United Progressive Alliance regime – at least in some cases.
This happy outcome is the result of two developments – one was the Modi government’s decision to disallow bids from promoters who had defaulted; and the second was litigation at the National Company Law Tribunal (NCLT) and its Appellate Tribunal (NCLAT), which is forcing many bids to be escalated post-haste. The litigation delays prompted by rival or losing bidders have enabled the Committee of Creditors (CoC) to expect bids higher than they originally expected.
To be eligible to bid for Essar Steel, ArcelorMittal has promised to clear the dues of two other companies it has been linked to and which were in default – Uttam Galva and KSS Petron. It has already parked Rs 7,000 crore in an escrow account with the State Bank of India, making it eligible to bid for Essar Steel. In the first bid, it had offered Rs 32,000 crore for Essar Steel, which had dues of nearly Rs 49,000 crore. While banks may still take a haircut on Essar, they are likely to get two other defaults fixed if the ArcelorMittal bid goes through.
Numetal, which had a Ruia on board, has been asked to clear Rs 40,000 crore of dues in order to be eligible to bid for Essar. This is obviously a tall order, but in the second round of bidding (canned by the NCLT), it had already raised its bid to Rs 37,000 crore.
It is possible that the CoC can, even if they decide to opt for Arcelor Mittal, negotiate a higher bid to match Numetal’s second offer. The haircuts will be lighter than expected earlier.
In the Binani Cement case, the promoters have promised to clear all dues of bankers in two weeks’ time if they can exit the insolvency process altogether. The money will obviously come from the Aditya Birla group, which has shown great desperation to bag this company. While the original top bidder, Dalmia Bharat, may challenge this again, chances now are that the bankers will ultimately get almost their entire money back. The old Dalmia bid seems unsustainable now.
In another case, Reliance Communications, which sold its assets to Reliance Industries to avoid the bankruptcy process, is now talking of an out-of-court settlement with Ericsson, which is a vendor to whom the company owes nearly Rs 1,000 crore. If this happens, it seems the mere threat of being dragged to the bankruptcy court is a good enough one to force some debtors to pay up.
Despite an occasional stumble and the long time spent in litigation, the Modi government – and banks – are emerging victors in the insolvency game. Between this quarter and the next, we can expect over Rs 1 lakh crore of bad loans to either become good or be paid back in spades.
In the run-up to the 2019 general election, Modi can claim huge success in reviving previously insolvent companies and recovering loans. Add the new Fugitive Economic Offenders Ordinance 2018, which will allow the government to grab the properties and assets of people like Vijay Mallya and Nirav Modi, who fled the country after defaults and/or fraud, and it appears that the infrastructure to recover dues from crony capitalists is finally falling into place.
Reliance Jio is being blamed for the state of affairs in the telecom sector. Even the Economic Survey 2017-18 had said: “It is important to note that the telecom sector is going through a stress period with growing losses, debt pile, price war, reduced revenue and irrational spectrum costs. A new entrant has disrupted the market with low-cost data services and the revenue of incumbent players has fallen. The crisis has also severely impacted investors, lenders, partners and vendors of these telecom companies.”
Last year’s Economic Survey (2016-17) had said something similar. “The telecommunications sector has experienced its own version of the ‘renewables shock’ in the form of a new entrant that has dramatically reduced prices for, and increased access to, data, thereby benefitting—at least in the short run— consumers. But.. the near term implications for the viability of incumbents are serious
The Reserve Bank of India’s Financial Stability Report, December 2016, had listed telecom among the three most indebted sectors along with iron and steel, and power. Significantly, Jio made an entry after this development.
The chart in the report is reproduced below, depicting risk profiles of industries as on September 2016. Note that telecom is the biggest bubble. The accumulated debt of telecom companies, or telcos, was already Rs 3.8 lakh crore, according to a report by industry body the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India (ASSOCHAM) and consulting firm KPMG. The interest-coverage ratio for the sector stood at less than one. (Interest coverage ratio is an indicator measuring the debt-servicing ability of the borrower; a ratio of less than one indicates a company’s inability to honour payments). High debt levels also increase interest costs and impact debt servicing.
Though competition has been pushing capital expenditures (CAPEX) higher, profits are falling. Operators are struggling with competition, and data services have eaten into voice and short message service (SMS) revenues. On top of all this, telecom frauds are increasing and affecting revenues of operators.
In the Indian context, Reliance Jio went ahead and did exactly what had been the norm across the world for years – increasing data availability, investing in long-term evolution (LTE)-enabled technology, buying over media networks and working towards supplying content, integrating it with other anticipated needs of the economy, and so on; in other words, provision of integrated telecom services. The other telcos lost out owing to their outmoded thinking, reliance on voice for revenues, and not investing in services – in other words, merely playing the role of giver of phone connections.
Telecom carriers across the world are looking at partnerships with mobile content, infotainment, telemedicine, and so on for achieving growth. And mergers and acquisition, and consolidation are the order of the day, including in towers and network. Logically, this is the way Indian telcos need to look, and indeed, they are waking up to it – even if Jio showed the way.
For decades now, there have been demands for rationalisation of various duties, fees, spectrum charges, and taxes by industry, as well as recommendations for the same by organisations with stakes in the sector, that is, Telecom Regulatory Authority of India, Ernst & Young, KPMG, and others. Former State Bank of India chairman Arundhati Bhattacharya had voiced her concerns about the “unsustainable levels of debt” and asked for a bailout package comprising duty waivers, deferred spectrum payments, lower goods and services tax, and so on, to save the “bleeding telecom companies”. In all likelihood, the government will do all it can – because of its keenness to move to Digital India and the critical nature of the industry to the Indian economy.
In 2016, the High Court of Delhi had ordered the chief secretaries of Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh to monitor crop stubble burning and ensure that it would not happen the next year.
During the winter of 2017, pollution levels in the National Capital Region (NCR) reached dangerously high levels, prompting the Medical Council of India (MCI) to declare a medical emergency and close schools and office. While activists and courts were grasping at straws with bans on construction and fire-crackers, the situation grew out of hand.
While Haryana’s efforts at cracking down on burning went unnoticed, Punjab – the largest contributor – passed the buck on the Centre saying it had no money to take action.
Chief Minister of the National Capital Territory of Delhi (NCT) Arvind Kejriwal rightly blamed the paddy-stubble burning in Punjab and sought an urgent meeting with his Punjab counterpart Amarinder Singh. Elsewhere, his party members in the northern state were seen burning stubble in an apparent ‘show of solidarity’ with farmers in Punjab.
Cold air, is heavier than warm air, and due to the extremely low temperatures, cold air tends to be sandwiched between the ground and a layer of warmer air. Further, due to the presence of moisture in the air, pollutants are trapped in this layer of cold air and thus the thick smog
How do we solve the problem of paddy stubble being burnt?
One, find out why the paddy stubble is still being burnt. Identify the reasons why farmers still prefer to burn the stubble rather than transporting them to a power plant.
Two, make it more economical for farmers to transport the stubble. This can be done by opening more facilities to dispose of them, improving connectivity, and reducing overheads through minor subsidies or incentives.
Three, penalise farmers who burn the stubble. The Amarinder Singh government in Punjab needs to take this seriously as a bulk of the crop stubble being burnt is from Punjab.
Four, rope in the private sector to set up more power plants to dispose of the crop stubble. A privately owned entity will certainly put in more effort to collect crop stubble as a raw material than a government body
Context: The GST council has asked the Centre and states to expedite setting up of appellate authorities for aggrieved entities to appeal against orders of the authority for advance rulings (AAR).
With AARs in different states started giving rulings since March, it has become imperative for the Centre as well as states to set up the appellate authority for advance ruling (AAAR). So far only 12 states, including West Bengal, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu and Uttar Pradesh, have issued notifications for setting up AAARs. However, these have not become operational as the members have not yet been appointed.
As per the state GST law, the appellate authority will have two members – the chief commissioner of central tax as designated by CBIC and the commissioner of state tax.
The appellate authority has been mandated to pass order within 90 days of the filing of appeal.
Under the GST (goods and services tax) law, an aggrieved party can file an appeal against the order of the authority for advance rulings within 30 days, which may be further extended by a month.
What is an Advance Ruling?
“Advance ruling” means a decision provided by the Authority or the Appellate Authority to an applicant on matters or on questions specified in sub-section (2) of section 97 or subsection (1) of section 100 of the CGST Act, 2017, in relation to the supply of goods or services or both being undertaken or proposed to be undertaken by the applicant.
The broad objectives for setting up a mechanism of Advance Ruling are:
Provide certainty in tax liability in advance in relation to an activity proposed to be undertaken by the applicant.
Attract Foreign Direct Investment (FDI).
Pronounce ruling expeditiously in a transparent and inexpensive manner.
‘Authority for advance ruling’ (AAR) and ‘Appellate authority for advance ruling’ (AAAR):
The Authority for advance ruling constituted under the provisions of State Goods and Services Tax Act or Union Territory Goods and Services Tax Act shall be deemed to be the Authority for advance ruling in respect of that State or Union territory under the CGST Act, 2017 also.
The Appellate Authority for Advance Ruling constituted under the provisions of a State Goods and Services Tax Act or a Union Territory Goods and Services Tax Act shall be deemed to be the Appellate Authority in respect of that State or Union territory under the CGST Act, 2017 also.
Thus it can be seen that both the Authority for Advance Ruling (AAR) & the Appellate Authority for Advance Ruling (AAAR) is constituted under the respective State/Union Territory Act and not the Central Act. This would mean that the ruling given by the AAR & AAAR will be applicable only within the jurisdiction of the concerned state or union territory. It is also for this reason that questions on determination of place of supply cannot be raised with the AAR or AAAR.
What happens when there is difference of opinion among the members?
Before giving the ruling, AAR must hear the applicant or his authorised representative as well as the jurisdictional officers of CGST/SGST.
If there is a difference of opinion between the two members of AAR, they shall refer the point or points on which they differ to the AAAR for hearing the issue. If the members of AAAR are also unable to come to a common conclusion in regard to the point(s) referred to them by AAR, then it shall be deemed that no advance ruling can be given in respect of the question on which difference persists at the level of AAAR.
Since last week, Assam has witnessed protests over an amendment to the Centre’s Citizenship Act 1955 that proposes to make minority (non-Muslim) immigrants from three neighbouring countries eligible for Indian citizenship. This has underlined a geographical divide, with the Bill facing protests in Assamese-dominated Brahmaputra valley while being welcomed in Bengali-dominated Barak Valley, Assam’s southern tip
It aims to amend the Citizenship Act 1955 to allow Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians from Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Pakistan to apply for Indian citizenship. The present Citizenship Act allows an immigrant to apply for citizenship if s/he has lived in India for 12 months immediately before the application, and for 11 of the last 14 years. On July 19, 2016, the government introduced the Amendment Bill in Lok Sabha, relaxing the 11-year cutoff to six years out of 14, for immigrants of the six religions from the three countries. Also, in 2015 and 2016, the government passed two notifications exempting such immigrants from the Foreigners Act 1946 and the Passport (Entry into India) Act 1920 — which provide for deportation — and enabling them to continue living in India if they had arrived before December 31, 2014
BRAHMAPUTRA VALLEY: The opponents stress Assam cannot accommodate any more immigrants and feel the Bill goes against the 1985 Assam Accord signed between the Rajiv Gandhi government and leaders of the Assam movement spearheaded by the All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) against illegal Bangladeshi immigrants — irrespective of religion. Under the Accord, any person who came into Assam after midnight of March 24, 1971, would be identified as a foreigner. A non-obstante clause was inserted in the Citizenship Act 1955 under Section 6A. “This basically meant the cutoff date for citizenship to migrants in Assam was March 24, 1971, while for the rest of the country it was 1950,”
BARAK VALLEY: The linguistic divide between the two regions can be traced back to 1947, when most parts of Bengali-speaking Sylhet joined East Pakistan, while one part was retained in India and is part of Barak Valley. Those pressing for the Bill express concern about “Partition victims” who have been displaced and persecuted.
“Since 1971, there have been about 20 lakh Bengali Hindus living illegally in India. If the Bill is passed, an additional 1.70 crore Hindus living in Bangladesh, according to the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics, 2015, will come into India and get citizenship,
In the government’s push towards mainstreaming digital transactions, UIDAI, the agency behind Aadhar, has launched Aadhar based Micro ATMs, in a move that it hopes will benefit 59 crore Indians
The Micro ATMs facilitate card-less and PIN-less transactions, requiring just the customer’s Aadhar number and finger print as the identity proof. This brings digital transactions within the reach of India’s rural populace which still lacks access to credit and debit cards.
4 lakh such micro ATMs have been operationalised across the country, with Bank MITRs being the touch-points for these services in rural India. These modified points-of-service (POS) machines can be used by customers to withdraw and deposit money in their bank accounts too, just with their Aadhar number and fingerprint. There’s no service charge for the transactions made over these Micro ATMs.
The move is part of the larger move by the government towards pushing cash-less transactions and is inline with other banking reforms like Jandhan accounts and Aadhar card linking with bank accounts. According to the latest figures, close to 90 per cent of the Indian population has been registered under Aadhar and 87 crore bank accounts have been linked to Aadhar in the country.
Nipah Virus (NiV) is an emerging infectious disease which first appeared in domestic pigs in Malaysia and Singapore in 1998 and 1999. There is evidence of Nipah infection among several species of domestic animals including dogs, cats, goats, and horses. Sheep may also be affected. However, since the initial outbreak it has primarily affected humans in different parts of the world. The disease causes respiratory and occasionally nervous signs in pigs. It has devastating zoonotic potential.
Fruit bats, also known as‘flying foxes,’ of the genus Pteropus are natural reservoir hosts of the Nipah and Hendra viruses. The virus is present in bat urine and potentially, bat feces, saliva, and birthing fl uids. Perhaps as a result of deforestation programmes, the Malaysian pig farms where the disease fi rst originated had fruit trees which attracted the bats from the tropical forest, thus exposing domestic pigs to bat urine and feces.
Nipah Virus is a zoonotic disease. Transmission to humans in Malaysia and Singapore has almost always been from direct, contact with the excretions or secretions of infected pigs. Reports from outbreaks in Bangladesh suggest transmission from bats without an intermediate host by drinking raw palm sap contaminated with bat excrement, or climbing trees coated in bat excrement
Nipah Virus in pigs affects the respiratory and nervous systems. The disease is difficult to diagnose based on clinical signs alone. Prevention and control measures focus on immediate eradication by mass culling of infected and in-contact pigs and on antibody surveillance of high risk farms to prevent future outbreaks.
Reforms in the fuel economy has been one of the massive achievements for India. It has helped the economy to cut fiscal pressures, that in turn has helped reduce borrowing costs for industry and small borrowers. By insulating government finances from the gyrations of fuel prices, a huge black market economy in oil has got curbed.
The Indian economy, always perilously short of oil and gas, had waited for long before it could remove the shackles of price control from the fuel economy. The wait had wrested huge political economic consequences.
The controls had played a key role in the rise of crony capitalism in India. So domestic consumers paid stiff prices for filling up their fuel tanks in a pricing regime, by paying for petrol at prices that subsidised diesel, cooking gas and kerosene. The upshot was it created a pricing environment in India, so short of crude oil to import million of barrels from the Middle East, only to refine and then export the entire consignment to South East Asian countries. With the foreign exchange India earned from these deal, the economy then bought more oil to feed to her domestic consumers.
One of the reasons, why despite the sharp rise in the retail price of petrol and diesel and the expected rise in prices of both subsidised and market-priced bottles of cooking gas, few are complaining, is that the economics is transparent.
The price of oil India imports has risen, and that is there for all to see. From there to the oil bunks is a straight pass through.
But pressures are building up. A report quoted by Business Standard from Pranjul Bhandari, chief India economist at HSBC Global Research notes: “headline inflation will be 5.4 per cent while the combined fiscal deficit (centre and states) will touch 6.2 per cent if oil averages $80 over the year”.
This is predicated on the assumption that the Centre would soak in some of the rise in the price of crude by expanding the fuel subsidy. The only way it can do so is to hurt the balance sheets of the state-run oil companies. If it is Oil and Natural Gas Corporation and Oil India, the exploration companies, it could be worse, as these companies are supposed to be the anchor investors in the fields opened up under Oil Acreage Licensing Policies in May.
Downstream, Indian Oil Corporation, Hindustan Petroleum Corporation Limited and Bharat Petroleum Corporation Limited have less investment commitment but cutting their strength works against the government’s policy of creating a oil behemoth that can secure favourable oil deals abroad. One of the reasons India has fared so badly in the global oil sweepstakes is its reluctance to build up state-run or private sector energy companies that can compete globally.
In the forthcoming public issue of Saudi Arabian company Aramco, India has not figured in any of the prospective deals simply because its companies carry so puny purses. Whittling those down further, offers no service to the economy as this is neither the first spell of rising oil prices and certainly not the last.
And this brings to the larger question of oil politics. The Middle Eastern countries, notably Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and United Arab Emirates have been spooked, with what declining oil prices could do to their finances and consequently on the hold the rulers exercise over their economy.
Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman, as chairman of Aramco, was rattled once he realised how deep would be the cut in the valuation of the world’s largest oil producer due to the dip in price of oil. The company pays for much of the glitter of Saudi Arabia and no one there will want to walk the road of lower oil prices, as long as they can hold out.
What does this portend for rest of the world? Since Europe is clearly shutting down on its hunger for oil, the oil producers need China and India to guzzle more and at the maximum prices they can afford to pay. Consequently, it is a brutal game in which the buyers and sellers are engaged in.
In the scenario, what are the options for the government and the consumers? A cut back in the excise duties by the Indian government is the least of the pain the state can afford to inflict at this point. But it begs the question, if the pain points would go away from now. The prices, as we saw, are unlikely to come off the highs and could mount. The chances are they would mount as the yields on 10-year US bonds are rising. Pricing of commodities are deeply linked to the prices of US benchmark securities. As the US Federal Reserve raises interest rates further, those yields would soar.
In this global environment, as the Indian state gives away some of the tax, it becomes less able to pay for the barrels. A weaker fisc would clip back at the value of rupee. What the consumers would gain at the petrol bunk they would give up in the higher price of other tradable items, as in intermediate goods like coal or finished products like electronics.
Instead, will it not be better if the government is able to tamp down on retail inflation by keeping a larger purse to pay for imports of commodities where shortages may arise. It has done this so far at 4.58 per cent for April, though it is 0.29 per cent higher than March. A lower tax on petrol would not arrest inflation and could instead add fire to it, as the state loses its ability to keep its fisc in control.
The IBC needs an amendment in order to shorten the resolution period. The law says insolvency should be resolved in 180 days but allows the courts to extend this deadline to 270 days in case there is a good reason to do so
The National Company Law Appellate Tribunal (NCLAT) – the last appeals court in insolvency cases before the Supreme Court – took up an appeal from operational creditors
These cases, and others, suggest that the 270-day outer limit for a resolution of IBC cases may soon become a dead letter, unless both the National Company Law Tribunal (NCLT) and the appellate tribunal (ie, NCLAT) take the deadline seriously. Excluding the days of litigation from the 270-day limit means litigation can stretch endlessly, defeating the very purpose of creating the insolvency courts. It can be nobody’s case that resolution should drag on for a year. It neither helps the company, nor creditors, nor the reputation of the courts.
The IBC needs an amendment in order to shorten the resolution period. The law says insolvency should be resolved in 180 days but allows the courts to extend this deadline to 270 days in case there is a good reason to do so. It is obvious that both the NCLT and the appellate tribunal are looking at the 270-day window as the real deadline, and even this can be sacrificed if bidders litigate.
The changes we need to the IBC rules are the following:
One, as stated, the outer limit for resolution should be 180 days, and not 270 days.
Two, litigation days, if excluded from the 180-day outer limit, should be capped at a maximum of 30 days, so that even if there is a spillover, as in the case of Essar Steel, the total time period for resolution will not exceed 210 days (seven months). Now it has become 270-plus. If it takes a year to resolve the debt issues of one company, the IBC will soon be litigated out of effectiveness.
Three, the government should create more benches and appoint more judges in the appellate courts as soon as possible. If it does not do so, shortage of judges and officers will be cited as reasons for delays.
Fourth, the part of the IBC that is working wonderfully well is the fear of being dragged into insolvency. A Times of India report says that more than 2,100 small companies have cleared outstanding dues to banks worth more than Rs 83,000 crore merely to stay out of the insolvency procedures. It would be a pity if the early cases send out the message that bankruptcy courts can be used endlessly to avoid paying up.
Recently, the government launched a ‘Study in India’ initiative, under which a web portal has been created to provide all relevant information to any potential foreign student.
The government is offering fee waivers for many of them. This is one of the rare activities of the government, where four different ministries - Ministry of Human Resource Development, Ministry of External Affairs, Ministry of Home Affairs and Ministry of Commerce and Industry are working together.
There is a focus on 30 countries in Asia and Africa, where a lot of outreach will be attempted. All centrally funded technical institutes (CFTIs) have been told that they can have 15 per cent super-numerary seats for foreign nationals. The goal is to increase the number of foreign students in India from around 45,000 now to 2 lakh in 2023.
There is no doubt that admitting more foreign students in our universities is desirable. Diversity in the classroom is good for learning. In due course, it may become financially profitablefor our poor institutions. And, of course, it enhances soft power of the nation.
There have been a lot of discussions on social media as to why foreign students don't prefer India. A lot of reasons have been cited:
They don't know enough about our programmes, which universities are good, how to apply and so on. Well, if a lack of information was the primary issue, then this new initiative will certainly help.
They hear biased news about the country. How women are unsafe here. How foreigners, particularly from Africa, are discriminated against, attacked, etc. All such reports are exaggerated and a wrong impression about personal security has been created. India has been portrayed as a difficult place to live in with its ‘harsh’ weather, tough to move around and difficult–to-negotiate house rentals.
These issues can be endlessly debated, without, perhaps, never reaching a conclusion. But if we really want to understand why foreigners don't want to study in India, the easiest way to find out is to understand why Indians themselves don't want to study in the country. Yes, a very large number of Indians go abroad to study. And I bet they don't do so only because they think that international exposure will help their careers. (If that was all, then we should be seeing a lot of people going abroad for a semester or two.)
While we have only 45,000 foreign students in India, more than 5.5 lakh Indians are studying abroad as per a statement given out by the government at the Lok Sabha in August 2017. Instead of aiming to bring 2 lakh foreigners to Indian universities, can we set a goal to woo back 2 lakh Indian students to universities here, by 2023. I am convinced that if we are able to attract Indians to Indian universities, foreigners will start getting interested.
But, why do Indians go abroad? They do, because there aren't many good institutions in India. And therefore, those who didn't get admission to any of the few good quality institutions and could afford to study abroad, leave India. If we want to have 2 lakh foreigners, and if we assume that on an average our best institutions will have 5 per cent foreign students within the next five years, it means that we must have good institutions with 40 lakh Indian students in them. The entire Indian Institutes of Technology (IIT) system has only 75,000 students (and I have no hope of the IIT system accommodating 5 per cent foreign students within five years).
And the reason for the absence of good enough institutions in India is very obvious. Quality requires resources. In India, government invests heavily only in a few institutions, and most states exercise tuition control on private universities. We must find a solution to this problem: How to provide students with weak financial background access to good quality education. Today, she has no such access, because there is no (or very little) good quality education.
And our public policy has consistently preferred access over quality. Can we find a mechanism by which a poor can get access to quality. This could be by way of allowing intense tuition, but supporting financially weak students through a variety of means. For instance, the government can chip in through some schemes of scholarships for the poor, especially with banks giving easy education loans. Institutions can seek philanthropic support.
It will have to be a combination of all of these. And if we can allow quality institutions to exist on Indian soil, we will not only save huge amount of foreign exchange that we spend on educating lakhs of our youth abroad, but will also be able to attract foreign students to such institutions.
And when we talk of quality of education, it is not just about attracting good faculty and building good infrastructure, but also having a good student experience. Do our campus have enough freedom?? Do academic processes have enough flexibility? And when you consider some of these issues, unfortunately even the best in India (like the IITs) do not compete well with even the ordinary outside. There are about 100,000 IIT alumni outside India.
How many of them are able to convince their own sons or daughters to spend just one semester under a study abroad programme in an IIT? Certainly, in these cases, the issue is not a lack of information but actually having enough information that their alma mater does not meet the requirements of their wards.
The European Union has transformed into a body that not only encompasses political structures, but also thriving businesses and corporations.
In its entirety, the GDPR can be summed under ‘P’s Eleven’. Applicable to ‘personal data’, it allows for control over ‘processing of data’, requires ‘permission for data of a user to be processed’, gives user the freedom to ‘procure data about them being processed’, gives user the right to have themselves ‘permanently forgotten’, warrants data to be ‘protected properly’, requires company to ‘provide information’ to users in case of a data breach, warrants ‘processing controls’ over data, ensures ‘permanent deletion of data’ after it is no longer required, warrants ‘data protection officers’, and most importantly, imposes ‘penalties’ for companies or corporations that fail to comply with the regulation.
It may have taken several years, but the EU must be credited for creating a data protection and privacy law that takes into consideration user interests. The US, however, has laws that vary according to the nature of the data processor, government or private. China, with over 800 million users, has the Great Firewall, thus obstructing any outside interference in its national network, while India, a nation of 500 million internet users, has no data policy at all!
In 2017, the European Union (including the United Kingdom) had over 433 million users. Clearly, the likes of GAFA (Google, Amazon, Facebook, and Apple) had no option but comply with the GDPR. In the last few days, Google, Twitter, Apple, and many other websites that thrive on user data updated their policies. Facebook’s Zuckerberg, still recovering from the Cambridge Analytica fiasco, found himself accountable before the EU lawmakers, given EU has more Facebook users than the United States.
India’s Law and IT Minister, Shri Ravi Shankar Prasad was quick to jump the gun, threatening Zuckerberg and other social media companies with a summon if tampering or online manipulation of the electoral process was discovered online. While his heart was at the right place, his policies weren’t. Without a data policy or law, the data of 500 million internet users in India is up for grabs.
With the growing affordability of smartphone devices, the vulnerability of Indians has increased online. Today, the urban smartphone users depend on utility apps like Uber, Zomato, Swiggy, Ola, UrbanClap, MakeMyTrip, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and countless other apps to ease their routine. Given the usage of these apps is inter-linked, the installation of one often prompts the requirement of the other, thus churning out more data. Employers too have added to this jungle, curating apps exclusively for their workers, which often help them track them.
Data, at an atomic level, may constitute one’s name, mobile number or email. Using these three aspects, one can sign up for almost all the utility apps there are. However, the same data leads to the creation of knowledge.
When it comes to user data, it is the context and not the content matters. For instance, data taken from a wearable device and a food ordering app can help a health insurance company analyse the user in question. Similarly, one’s internet search queries, amalgamated with their locations in different instances, may offer a deeper perspective on their life, one they might not be willing to share.
The problem lies in the fact that the user is not aware of what they are consenting to when they install an app or log on to a website that requires their data. For some cents worth of cashback and discounts, people have unknowingly traded their data with corporations.
Today, 500 million Indians are products for corporations that have zero accountability to the Indian government. These products are churning out data that is not quantifiable for an average engineer, but qualifies for selective profiling and maybe, in the longer run, discrimination?
Learning from GDPR, the Indian government, at the earliest, must work towards a data policy that protects user interests. Given the smartphone boom and Prime Minister’s ambitious JAM (Jan Dhan accounts, Aadhaar Cards, mobile phone numbers) Trinity, the data production is only going to increase in the coming years.
The United Progressive Alliance (UPA) era model under which India’s two biggest airports, Delhi and Mumbai, were offered to private developers, has been junked under the Narendra Modi regime. It must be remembered that the model used for both these airports has proved to be a bonanza for the Airports Authority of India (AAI), which owns and operates the maximum airports across the country and devises the concession agreements for inviting private sector participation in airport development.
In 2016-17, the AAI earned over Rs 3,800 crore or almost a third of its total revenues from Mumbai and Delhi airport incomes alone. But this bonanza has come at a cost: frequent squabbles over airport capex between private parties and the AAI and increased user charges. And these are the pitfalls, which the new airport concession model being worked out, seeks to avoid.
So what theAAI is now trying to do is bringing in private airport developers for smaller airports without asking them to invest in the capex of these airports and reworking the revenue share model. Senior officials of the ministry of civil aviation have said that new concession agreements for airports at Jaipur and Ahmedabad will be released by mid next month and another three airports will then be considered for similar PPP models.
What they have not said is the continuous back-and-forth on airports, inviting private parties and changing concession agreements has already made a mockery of the entire process.
As this piece says, the latest attempt at roping private parties earlier this year, to operate Jaipur and Ahmedabad airports ran aground since only one bidder finally put its hat in the ring. This marks yet another flop show, as unsuccessful attempts by AAI to get private parties interested span the entire four years of the Modi government.
So now, the AAI is adding a carrot: bidder will be allowed to make use of the airside and car parking spaces in addition to the terminal and cargo areas. Secondly, AAI pays a fee to the private developer for operating and managing these two airports and in exchange, gets a revenue share based on a per passenger basis for passengers going through each airport.
This is against the earlier plan of a share of the gross revenue earned by airports at Delhi and Mumbai.
But let us hark back to the entire airport privatistaion process and its many failures. In 2015, the governments of India and Singapore signed a memorandum of understanding for Singapore's Changi Airport to come in and help AAI operate and manage two airports - at Jaipur and Ahmedabad. This was seen as the first instance of a government-to-government agreement to develop airports in India, without the AAI having to float a tender. During PM Modi's visit to Singapore then, the two governments signed a pact which would have enabled Changi Airport to get the O&M (operation and management) contract for a fee. An AAI official had clarified then that the arrangement did not provide for any revenue sharing between the two parties though an equity participation was not ruled out.
What Changi was being offered was chance to manage the retail space inside the terminal building and car parking space. The airside operation was to stay AAI at all times and Changi was expected to augment revenue within the airport terminals. But Changi did not come on board. Before the Changi fiasco, the government had planned to also bid out other airports including Guwahati and Lucknow airports – it pruned the list to two but failed at that too.
In August this year, it had become clear that the government was scrapping earlier plans to invite private developers to pick up equity stakes in the two airport projects of Chennai and Kolkata. This, after months of back and forth over whether the plan to privatise some airports should move forward at all and which all airports should be included in this list. At that time, it was also decided to try out an operation and maintenance contract model for Jaipur and Ahmedabad.
So why did the government chicken out of PPP model for airport development? A senior ministry official had explained earlier: "Unlike other airports under AAI where private parties have been allowed, significant investment has already been made by the AAI in these four airports at about Rs 5,000 crore. Privatisation is usually done to attract investments, but since significant money has already been invested in these projects, we have put the entire process on hold. Besides, there were some employee issues too".
Not just the privatisation of airports, the National Democratic Alliance government has also scrapped an earlier plan to corporatise and eventually list AAI on the bourses. This comes amid a growing chorus for letting AAI remain a state-owned entity so that it can "perform its sovereign functions well".
In the crowd there are ringleaders and agitators who start the violence that soon spreads like a contagion. People in the crowd enter a diseased mental state; hypnotised, suggestible, inhibitions gone, rationality surrendered. They forget who they are; a process called in psychology as ‘de-individuation’, and become anonymous. They then share a collective mind, a mob mentality. The only way to deal with individuals in such a hypnotised and frenzied state is to use effective force almost like administering medicine and that brings back sense.
All public order management strategies are based on an underlying theory of psychology of crowd behaviour. If de-individuation, mob irrationality and contagion are the axioms, then public order management must rely strictly on regulation and enforcement. Assembly of crowd should be as per regulation; date, time, place and number specified or permission denied. The regulation should then be enforced and violations prosecuted. In the event that any crowd violence starts, the assembly has to be declared unlawful and dispersed with use of minimum force, the quantity of which will depend on the requirement to meet the goal of complete dispersal. Any inaction will lead to contagion, mob frenzy and situation getting out of hand. The problem with this model of public order management is that it ultimately turns out to be a fire fight on occasions when violence takes over.
Our police personnel are, in effect, grossly over-deployed and tired because of daily bandobast duties, yet any failure can be passed on to the police uncritically. There is little appetite for understanding complexities.
The normative standards for any crowd will have to be established through sustained liaison mechanisms and professional handling of interactions by all the public order managers: organisers of public events, local authorities, police and participants of these events. The effort must be to prevent perception of illegitimate inter-group relations from emerging.
The State has a primary role in maintaining public order, but management of public order in a democracy needs collaboration of all the stakeholders because the costs of failures for society are too high.
If there is one mistake the Narendra Modi government made in managing taxes on petro-fuels – especially diesel – it is that it failed to create a buffer to absorb sudden spikes in imported crude oil prices. Instead, it absorbed the higher revenues from rising petro-taxes into the budget math, leaving little scope for smoothening out the price kinks
Ideally, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley should have created a reserve account in late 2014, where 75 per cent of the new taxes went to finance budget expenses and banking the balance in an oil price stabilisation account whose accumulations could now have been used to cut prices or moderate increases. Instead, it is faced with two bad options: either asking the oil marketing companies to absorb some of the price increases, or to cut taxes. In the former case, the profits and market valuations of the marketing companies would take a dive; in the latter case, the fiscal deficit takes a toss. Every Re 1 cut in petrol and diesel taxes costs the exchequer Rs 13,000-14,000 crore in revenues.
The promise to try and bring petro-fuels under goods and services tax (GST) is a red herring, for it ain’t gonna happen. The states are simply making too much from petroleum taxes to want to give up this source of revenue freedom. In 2016-17, states earned more than Rs 300,000 crore from such taxes, including their share of central revenues from excise. Even if oil comes under GST, its rate would be so high in order to retain revenue-neutrality (probably 80-100 per cent) that it is not worth the effort. It would distort the GST rate structure even more than it is now.
Politically, thus, governments must be able to moderate prices at all times, and the only way to do it is to create an oil price stabilisation fund. If, for example, we want to keep prices at the level where Brent crude is at $70 a barrel, whenever prices fall below $70, the retail prices should be held stable and higher margins paid into the fund. If prices rise, the fund can be used to moderate the rate of increase for a while.
After the Cambridge Analytica episode surfaced, it has become harder to have a sensible debate around data policy. Attributing the victory of Donald Trump to social media manipulation, people have not only overestimated the potential of data-oriented digital networks, but also questioned the right of small, medium, and large businesses, across the world, to grow by inculcating user data in their operations.
Data, as a by-product of operations and usage, is indispensable to the enhancement of any business. For instance, one cannot expect Uber to improvise on its supply against an increased demand if it does not have data in advance. Similarly, for online utility startups to serve their customers better, data mining is essential. However, how do governments and data regulators get businesses to comply with rules and regulations that prevent exploitation of user data?
The EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) solves this problem to some extent. By inculcating data minimisation, they now warrant service providers to collect only data that is essential to the service being offered. Thus, a cab company has no business asking for one’s date of birth, occupation, or even saved destinations. A food ordering app can no longer ask for one’s health vitals unless they are looking to process their data to curate customised menu options for them
India’s data policy must offer users the freedom to opt out of targeted advertising for a specific business. Lawmakers cannot have the final word when it comes to the nature of interaction between a business and their users.
For starters, the data policy must censor the transfer of user data outside India while encouraging inter-state data transfer.
For instance, the government, in collaboration with private players, can use data mined via programmes linked to Aadhaar in one state to improve services in another. However, there must be laws against the likes of Walmart, Amazon, and Uber when it comes to transferring the data of users in India outside the country.
The data policy must have a place for commercial fairness and equality. Corporations, irrespective of their size or strength, must be governed by the same data protection and privacy laws. However, to not alienate local, small, medium, or state companies operating online, the penalties or fines imposed must be divided into slabs. The bigger the company size, the greater is the responsibility, and even greater penalties must follow. This is not about punishing the leader in the market, but making an example of them when it comes to accountability. As a nation of 500 million internet users in 2018, the government of India can surely afford to tighten the straps around data.
The portal on Organic Food from India is a regulatory portal. At the heart of the portal is an Indian Organic integrity database jointly developed by FSSAI, APEDA and (PGS-India) on Organic food standards, certification processes, information relating to FBOs, their products and geographical areas in which they are available. The Organic Food products may be searched by name of the food and by the name of the company as well.
The unified logo is an identity mark to distinguish organic products from non-organic ones supported with the tagline “Jaivik Bharat” at the bottom, which signifies Organic Food from India. Effectively intertwining all the elements of environment, the logo communicates adherence to the National Organic Standards.
People are wary to purchase organic food due to lack of confidence about its genuineness. The problem of fraud and mis-labelling occurs when a Food Business Operator (FBO) marks a product as organic while it contains non-organic ingredients or where the organic production standards are not adhered to in the production process. Therefore, it becomes important to check if the food labelled as "organic" is genuinely organic. The Food Safety and Standards (Organic Foods) Regulations, 2017 are based on the standards of National Programme for Organic Production (NPOP) and Participatory Guarantee System (PGS-India). The customer will be assured of the genuineness after the Regulations are notified.
Did you know that Sikkim has been declared as the India’s first fully organic state?
Did you know that total area under Organic certification is 5.71 million hectares?
Did you know that India ranks first in terms of number of Organic producers?
Did you know that India ranks 9th in area under Organic agriculture?
Did you know that India exports around 1.35 million MTs of certified organic foods?
The fund has been set up under NABARD, which will provide the amount to states on concessional rate of interest to promote micro-irrigation, as part of its objective to boost agriculture production and farmers income.
Micro-irrigation currently has a coverage of only 10 million hectares as against the potential of 70 million hectares.
“Borrowings from NABARD shall be paid back in seven years including the grace period of two years. The lending rate under MIF has been proposed at 3% lower than the cost of raising the fund by NABARD
The states might access this fund for innovative integrated projects, including projects in the Public Private Partnership (PPP) mode and also for incentivizing micro irrigation.
Farmers Producers Organization (FPO)/Cooperatives/State Level Agencies can also access the funds with state government guarantee or equivalent collateral. Farmers Co-operatives may access this fund for innovative cluster based community irrigation projects.
The government expects that the States which are lagging behind in adoption of micro irrigation would also be encouraged to take advantage of the fund for incentivizing farmers as being done by the good performing States.
The task force on micro irrigation had estimated a potential of 69.5 million hectare under micro irrigation, whereas the area covered so far is only about 10 million hectare
Outrage erupted at the Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams(TTD), the autonomous body which manages the famous Tirupati Balaji temple when its head archaka(priest) AV Ramana Dikshitulu made stunning allegations of corruption and impropriety in the administration of the temple
What happened next illustrates everything that is wrong with Hindu Temples being under state control. Instead of taking the allegations seriously, the administration hastily convened a meeting of the board of trustees and served retirement orders to Ramana Dikshitulu and three other head priests. This was done was by fixing the “retirement age” for temple priests as 65 years.
Sources say that the decision was influenced by the State Endowment Department, which administers temples in Andhra Pradesh
A temple is commonly understood as a place of worship. However, this definition does not do justice to the deeper, more fundamental aspects of temples.
A temple is considered to be the extended body of the Devata. Even in law, the deity is considered to be a legal entity to whom the temple property belongs.
From a social perspective, temples have been centres of learning and spiritual instruction. Given this nature of the temple, the questions of how and by whom it should be administered become relatively straightforward.
A temple is to be administered by the community, through representation, according to the specific agama shastra adopted by it. The role of the state was traditionally restricted to ensuring security and occasionally providing grants.
The temptation for states to control temples is obvious: money and power. There is immense scope for diversion of funds. Some governments have gone so far as to seek trust funds for building airports and bridging budget deficits.
The vast temple land endowments are either officially diverted for state purposes, leased out or sold for paltry sums or worse, allowed to be encroached upon. A recent Madras High Court judgement rebuked the state for allowing over 50,000 acres of temple land endowments to be lost to encroachment. Temple land endowments in Tamil Nadu had shrunk from 5.25 lakh acres to 4.78 lakh acres due to encroachments. For 4.78 lakh acres, the planned annual revenue collection was a paltry 304 crores, while by any reasonable measure, the figure should be in thousands of crores. Of this, less than 36 crores have been collected.
Further, large portions of the temple donations are syphoned off to the state treasury as administrative expenditures and management fees. In many cases, the administrative expenditure far outweighs the religious expenditure. Temples have been “renovated” without consulting either agamic or archaeological experts, resulting in agama violations and loss of ancient inscriptions, priceless murals etc. Rampant corruption and appointments as political favours have further crippled temples in performing their role as social, cultural and spiritual centres of the Hindu community.
This kind of arbitrary state behaviour is not legitimated either by tradition or by the secular nature of the state as mandated by the constitution. The allegedly secular state does not interfere in the management of the religious endowments of any other faith.
Yet, for decades, it has been increasingly involved in the arbitrary takeover and mismanagement of Hindu temples.
It is high time that we ensure that temples are freed from state control and the endemic corruption and politicising that comes along with it.
First, transportation – whether of people or goods – is no longer unimodal for any class of traffic, whether passenger or cargo. You need a mix of roads, railways, waterways and airways to handle growing demand for mobility in a complex country like India. This means planning for the transport sector must be integrated, with all sectors being optimised and aligned. If road transport is the best way to move goods over short distance or through hilly terrain, there is no point trying to run trains to such places of enormous costs.
If you run the railways ministry as a standalone, the only way to respond to the demand is by building costly tracks for ill-frequented routes. If a bullet train is going to prove time- and cost-competitive with airlines on some routes, the airports authority can focus its spending on airports in places where trains can’t reach, or buses are too tedious to run.
Second, financial leveraging. It is apparent that Indian Railways, despite having three ministers so far in the Modi government, two of them very capable ones, has not been able to make the kind of splash Atal Behari Vajpayee made with his Golden Quadrilateral.
With privatisation a non-starter due to union pressures, revenues have to come from privatisation of stations and corporate branding of trains, apart from the monetisation of land, listing of railways-run companies (RITES, the coach factories, etc). Having the same minister who met the challenges in roads to try his hand in railways should be the obvious next thing to do. With Piyush Goyal (currently Railways and Coal Minister) also holding part-time charge in the Finance Ministry in Arun Jaitley’s absence, it may be a good time to consider giving him a permanent slot in finance (he is a CA and understands finance). The experiment with integrated ministries can begin with ministries in transport. Minimum government, maximum governance can begin here. If the experiment works, more ministries can be merged after 2019.
In case Jaitley returns to finance, Goyal can be given an integrated energy ministry (which would include petroleum) to run.
Third, integrated ticketing is also vital. In India, a person travelling from Mumbai to a small town in, say, Assam would probably do well to fly part of the distance, cover the local leg by train and the last mile by bus. One wonders why the traveller has to buy three tickets and move from airport to railway station and then a bus station.
One through ticket should be the norm, if linkages and transport connections and timetables are realigned to make this possible. It can’t happen if railways, civil aviation and roads are under different ministries.
Fourth,integration will cut costs and create new opportunities for monetising assets. Today, bridges are built separately for roads and railways, though there are a few instances of road-cum-rail bridges. One wonders whether future development should include common land acquisitions where all needs are taken into account, and the acquired land is used not only for building tracks and roads, but also optic fibre, solar panels and gas or water pipes.
At some point, Transport Ministry land can be used for vertical housing or manufacturing zones. The omnibus transport ministry will be India’s biggest landowner. This land can be endlessly monetised
Modi’s India fancies itself as a “net security provider” and a “leading power” that shapes rather than reacts to policies. But its key instrument – the military – is in a parlous state. Indian navy ships, some state of the art otherwise, lack long-range anti-submarine protection because it has not been able to clinch a deal to acquire 147 medium multi-role helicopters.
Indian submarines, especially the modern Scorpenes, lack heavyweight torpedoes used to sink vessels at some distance. As for the second indigenous aircraft carrier, it seems to have been shelved at a time when China is making them on an assembly line.
Each of the three services have critical deficiencies, even though India is the world’s largest importer of major arms. Earlier this year, a report of the Parliament’s standing committee on defence cited the serving army vice-chief as saying that 68% of his force’s equipment was of the “vintage category”.
The committee also revealed that India actually spends a huge amount of money for its defence. Officially, this year’s defence budget is Rs 2,79,305 crore. But this leaves out the astonishing Rs 1,08,853 crore in pensions and Rs 16,000 crore spent by the ministry of defence (MoD) itself.
The real total is Rs 4,04,365 crore, 16.6% of all government expenditure. The capital expenditure to buy new equipment, Rs 93,982 crore this year and considered grossly inadequate, is 33% of the total capital expenditure of the Union government.
Increasing this would certainly be unconscionable in a country where nearly half the children suffer from stunting because of malnutrition. But at the same time the country cannot afford to have a million plus military in a condition where they cannot accomplish the tasks they are expected to do.
The country’s leaders have been told this by the forces themselves and the various specialist committees who have recommended deep structural reform of our military and MoD. But the political leadership has lacked the will and the application to undertake the task.
Reform is needed at four levels – first, in insisting that the MoD be run on professional lines by specialists both civilian and uniformed. Second, to get the military to fight as an integrated force by appointing a chief of defence staff to lead the process.
A third and separate level relates to the deep overhaul of the defence R&D and industrial system by bravely dismantling the current structure and reconstituting it on new and better terms.
A fourth more complicated level is that of manpower. India cannot afford its 1.2 million strong army. One consequence of this is the growing pension bill; another is that with salaries and allowances eating the budget, no money is left to buy equipment to modernise.
One solution is to recruit most of the personnel for a limited time – 10 years or so – and shed them, minus pension. At an average age of 28 they should be mandatorily recruited into government services, especially the state police and paramilitary.
Government has recently set up a new defence planning committee (DPC) under the NSA to advise the MoD on these issues. Considering the limited time on hand for the principals of the DPC, one wonders what its goals are: To actually do something, or block the pesky parliamentary committee from highlighting these problems
Prime Minister of Netherlands Mark Rutte, who is in India on a two-day visit, launched the ‘Clean Air India Initiative’ in the national capital.
The Clean Air India Initiative is a collaborative project between Get In The Ring, a platform for start-ups, the government of the Netherlands, Start-up India, and INDUS Forum, an online matchmaking platform of Indian and Dutch businesses.
The campaign aims to curb air pollution in Indian cities by promoting partnerships between Indian start-ups and Dutch companies and build a network of entrepreneurs working on business solutions for cleaner air.
A major business opportunity for Dutch firms that was highlighted included the potential for sale of equipment (such as sensors), data, and solutions concerning air quality monitoring (AQM).
It is estimated that 80% of India is not covered by AQM data collecting which is the first step toward monitoring and combating air pollution.
An ‘INDUS impact’ project aims to halt the hazardous burning of paddy stubble by promoting business partnerships that “upcycle” it.
This entails using paddy straw as feedstock to make materials that would find use in construction and packaging — a technology and expertise that Dutch companies are keen to market in India. Severe air pollution in Delhi is caused by the burning of paddy straw in neighbouring Haryana and Punjab.
It aims to make school education an integrated whole from pre-school to Class-12.
The programme will subsume three existing schemes: Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA), Rashtriya Madhyamik Shikskha Abhiyan (RMSA) and Teacher Education (TE).
The programme will focus on quality education and enhancing learning outcomes of students, bridging social and gender gaps in the school education, and promoting vocalisation of education. Focus will also be on empowerment of girls. The upgradation of Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalayas (KGBVs) has been extended from class VI-VIII to class VI-XII.
CWSN (Children With Special Needs) girls from Class I to XII would be given a stipend of Rs 200 per month.
To focus on the importance of libraries, schools would be given an annual grant of Rs. 5,000 to Rs. 20,000 under the initiative.
As part of the scheme, the Centre will give government schools grants for buying sports equipment so as to promote sports in schools, so that one hour can be devoted to sports daily.
Recently, the government has put in place the draft of a new law – Digital Information Security in HealthCare Act (DISHA). The law is meant to protect digital health data. With healthcare providers’ growing dependence on IT, there’s all the more need for stronger data protection laws.
The need for data security is recognised in Indian healthcare to save the data of patients from being misused or leaked.
Under the Indian Medical Council (Professional Conduct, Etiquette and Ethics) Regulations, 2002, doctors are required to maintain confidentiality of all patients during various stages of the medical treatment and procedures and also of the information provided by them.
However, it failed to clearly define the time-line for accessing data of patients. It also failed to include URLs and IP addresses as sensitive information, something which is of paramount significance in the internet driven world today.
Certain sections of the Information Technology Act also provide a basic framework for the protection of personal information in India, but these suffer from a number of flaws. For example, Section 43(a) is applicable only to a ‘body corporate’ and leaves out individuals and legal entities like trusts or NGOs and many others from its purview.
‘Electronic Health Records Standards for India’: To overcome some of these shortcomings, the government came out with ‘Electronic Health Records Standards for India’ in 2013. These standards safeguard patients’ data in many ways and require safeguarding of financial information of patients.
These standards also require healthcare providers to designate “a privacy officer who will be responsible for implementing privacy policies, audit and quality assurance”. It also has a provision for patients “to request a healthcare organisation that holds their health records, to withhold specific information that he/she does not want disclosed to other organisations or individuals.”
The new Digital Information Security in HealthCare Act (DISHA):
It makes any breach punishable with up to five years’ imprisonment and a fine of Rs. 5 lakh.
It redefines personal information of the patients. It adds, “use of narcotic or psychotropic substances, consumption of alcohol, human immunodeficiency virus status, sexually transmitted infections treatment, and abortion” related information of the patient to the list of sensitive information.
DISHA also defines a ‘clinical establishment’ as well as the term ‘entity’ clearly and unambiguously to include individuals, trusts, private and public establishments, hospitals, diagnostic centres, pathological laboratories, radiology laboratories, etc.
It also accords great significance to “informed consent” of individuals and emphasises on obtaining explicit consent before transfer and use of digital health data.
While it is yet to be seen what the final shape of this new law will be, it is definitely a move in the right direction as it ensures protection of digital health data at every step, including at the time of their generation, collection, storage and transmission. Conclusion: As it is true for any law, the devil lies in implementation. Unless implemented effectively, no law, howsoever stringent, can have the desired impact. It will be pertinent to look at actual cases of data theft after DISHA is implemented and other emerging trends to revise and replenish this legislation from time to time.
The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has been often described as a paper tiger, unable to protect ordinary citizens from human rights violations, committed at times by the state machinery. In one such case, the NHRC, disillusioned by its helplessness in bringing justice in the alleged extrajudicial killings of 1,528 persons in Manipur, had last year referred to itself as a “toothless tiger” before the Supreme Court.
The Protection of Human Rights (Amendments) Bill, 2018: Salient features
To ensure that the NHRC is more inclusive, the Bill proposes to include one member of the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights within its fold as a deemed member as well as a woman member.
It proposes to enlarge the scope of eligibility and selection of the Chairperson of the NHRC as well as of State Human Rights Commissions.
It proposes to incorporate a mechanism to look into cases of human rights violations in Union Territories.
It proposes to amend the term of office of the Chairperson and members of the NHRC and the State Human Rights Commissions to ensure that it is in consonance with the terms of the Chairpersons and members of other commissions.
The Amendment Bill seeks to strengthen human rights institutions so that they can discharge their roles and responsibilities effectively. Sync with agreed global standards and benchmarks:
The amended Act will be in sync with the agreed global standards and benchmarks on ensuring rights relating to life, liberty, equality and dignity of individuals in the country. The amendment to the Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993 will make the NHRC and State Human Rights Commissions more compliant with the Paris Principle “concerning its autonomy, independence, pluralism and wide-ranging functions in order to effectively protect and promote human rights”
Among the flagship successes has been the strategic relationship between India and the United States (US). The government also handled the Trump transition through the 2017-18 period without tentativeness. India’s strategic importance as a counterweight to China and a reliable partner of the US in the Indo-Pacific has seen a rise in its importance. Being a high-profile customer of US defence hardware makes India look even more attractive.
The government’s successful handling of the Middle East has ensured contribution towards three important areas – energy security, diaspora confidence, and promotion of a moderate ideology.
The country’s emergence as a full-fledged member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization is, of course, a legacy case, but its management has been successful despite some earlier glitches in relationships with both Russia and China.
Where the success has been far less is surprisingly in the neighbouring region. This primarily includes Nepal and Maldives, where regimes could not be cultivated and China’s all-pervading hand is evident in its attempt to garner influence. Sri Lanka remains on the cusp, with its internal politics in a fickle state but with early promise of a tilt towards India. Bangladesh has remained a success story from the past, but the expectation to take this to transformational levels may not have been achieved because the strength of the relationship remains limited to the current dispensation of the Bangladesh Awami League without clarity for the future.
On Afghanistan, it has been a success story with the absence of any major attacks on Indian facilities except the recent kidnapping of some workers. The opening of the alternate route through Chahbahar, facilitating the supply of the first consignment of wheat to Kabul, has sent a strategic message to Pakistan. Continuance of Indian soft power support to the Afghan government and training support to the Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police are Indian core capabilities that still make a difference.
Two focus issues are Doklam and the Line of Control (LOC). The overall handling of the 72-day standoff through firm and steadfast military posturing, good media management, and deft diplomacy has proved the emergency-handling capability of the government. The follow-up has been welcome with attempts at a reset in relations.
The scale of achievement on the LOC has not reached the same level as Doklam. The suffering of the population in the Jammu sector remains a negative. The construction of anti-shelling bunkers needs to be taken up on an urgent basis. In fact, we need to go beyond this by investing in temporary relocation of the population with full welfare, if we have to respond more strongly with the international border sector handed over to the Army.
Jammu and Kashmir’s internal situation obviously has legacy connections, but ever since the killing of Burhan Wani on 8 July 2016, the government has followed a robust policy to re-establish military domination over the hinterland. Operation All Out was an unqualified success, but casualties have also been high, not the least because of intervention by mobs.
The Prime Minister projected the idea of a return to engagement with the population through his iconic message on Independence Day 2017 – “Na goli se, na gaali se… Kashmir ki samasya suljhegi gale lagane se (The Kashmir problem will be resolved not by bullets or abuses, but by embracing its people)”. The Non-Initiation of Combat Operations (NICO) for Ramzan and the linking of his message with the same could well be a game-changer if peace prevails and NICO is extended to Amarnath Yatra and beyond. The negative here is the inability to get strong counter-narratives in place and prevent local recruitment, which has become the current driver of the separatist movement. This will in all probability change if NICO persists.
The quieting of the North East’s security situation has also seen a surge in the Bharatiya Janata Party’s political hold over much of the region. This should assist in enhanced engagement with disparate renegade groups with visible vigour even as every attempt is made to bring connectivity to the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) through the North East.
The government can claim much success in the refocus of strategic defence policy with the maritime domain being given a higher priority. While this may not be fully evident in terms of equipment and outlay, it is the attention now accorded to the Indo-Pacific region which is making a difference. The government appears to be in sync with the perception of the strategic community that China’s vulnerability lies in the maritime domain and it wishes to keep India’s focus wedded to the continental domain to prevent increase in Indian maritime capability.
China’s Malacca dilemma is well-known but only now is it being spoken of more openly. The Navy has added traction to our foreign policy initiatives, whether it is in enhancing cooperation with the big powers or in providing a physical dimension to the Act East Policy. The Malabar series and the recent Exercise Milan has helped project the international footprint of the Navy. While acquisitions and asset procurement may still be tardy and pegged under the weight of legacy procedures, the new aircraft carrier under construction is making good progress and appears to be headed for a 2020 induction to give the Navy its second carrier and add much muscle to it.
Notwithstanding the Chief of the Air Staff’s references to India’s readiness for a two-front war, the Indian Air Force is stretched, capability-wise. There are permutations and combinations in optimising the current 31-squadron capability, but further erosion over the next 10 years due to phase-outs will only just be made up by inductions (on order) if they remain on target, yet reducing the holding to 29-30 squadrons by 2027.
Capability-wise, the Indian Army does not appear as confident of itself as it should be. Many of the issues concerning land capability are from the past, but the ghost of decision-making in procurement, procedure, and unrealistic requirements spelt out to vendors, has rendered such delays that it is being highlighted even internationally.
The strength of achievement by a government in the defence sector is also qualified by the extent of understanding beyond just the operational and strategic domains. It is in the field of civil-military relations, organisation, and personnel management that its hands are not tied by resource availability; trust and attitude make the difference. This is where, in India’s history of managing its military, governments have tended to be tardy.
In this area, the major issues are the creation of ‘joint structures’, integration of the Defence Ministry with part-presence of uniformed support, the institution of a Chief of the Defence Staff, and the drafting of a National Security Strategy. Progress in these fields is not noticeable just yet, although a halfway measure has been achieved with the creation of the Defence Planning Committee as a layer between the Cabinet Committee for Security and the Defence Ministry.
Civil-military relations in India are dogged by the perception of the military that the civilian bureaucracy has little understanding of defence matters. Institutionally, if measures are taken to build a strategic culture among the civilian managers of national security and give the uniformed community a greater say in decision-making as stakeholders and not relegate them purely to implement what is decided, much of the problem can be reduced. Towards that end, the hold of the civilian bureaucracy over the government remains complete and unchanged.
According to the Global Nutrition Report 2017, which looked at 140 countries, India has a twofold challenge – a large number of people are either underweight or overweight. Both these issues are linked to inadequate nutrition and unsuitable lifestyle.
The report especially highlights the “significant burden” of childhood stunting, anaemia in women of reproductive age, and overweight adult women.
The report also highlights that while India has improved in addressing the problem of stunting in children under five years, it has made no progress or even presents worse outcomes in the percentage of women in the reproductive age with anaemia, and is off track in terms of targets for reducing adult obesity and diabetes.
The twin challenges of the weight being lower or higher than the average, presents a unique challenge for the country and highlights the growing gap among social groups and their respective lifestyles. It is a well-established fact that healthier kids grow into productive adults and thus contribute positively to the economy. Lack of nutrition actually reinforces the cycle of poverty.
Similarly, the health of the mother has significant and lasting impact on children, especially the girl child. According to UNICEF, “Undernourished girls have a greater likelihood of becoming undernourished mothers who in turn have a greater chance of giving birth to low birth weight babies, perpetuating an intergenerational cycle.
This cycle can be compounded further in young mothers, especially adolescent girls who begin childbearing before they have grown and developed enough. When mothers take only short intervals between pregnancies and have many children, this can exacerbate nutrition deficits, which are then passed on to their children”.
As the World Nutrition report also highlights, India is one of the worst performers in women’s health. According to the WHO, India comes at the bottom of the table with 51 per cent women suffering from anaemia.
While addressing the problem is complex due to the many factors involved, governments have been trying to improve things. Several schemes such as the Integrated Child Development Services, the National Health Mission, the Janani Suraksha Yojana, the Matritva Sahyog Yojana, the Mid-Day Meal Scheme, and the National Food Security Mission are in operation at the grassroots level. The Modi government also launched the National Nutrition Mission in 2017 with an aim to reduce all forms of malnutrition by 2030, and a focus on the most vulnerable and critical age groups.
The strategy also aims to assist in achieving the targets identified as part of the Sustainable Development Goals, to which India is a signatory, related to nutrition and health. Among the highlights of the policy are its decentralised approach, introduction of specific interventions with a focus on improving healthcare and nutrition among children, measures to improve maternal care and nutrition, and governance reforms.
As is the case with any human health-related problem, the gestation period for any policy is high. While the National Nutrition Mission is a step in the right direction, it will take years before one can see noticeable change in the current (dismal) state of the health of our mother and children.
While the government has put nutrition at the heart of its health policy, more needs to be done. One of the ways to improve nutrition intake among kids is to deliver supplements through self-help groups as well as include them in mid-day meals. Diversifying the current Public Distribution System (PDS) can be another important step.
While the programme has been beneficial in providing food to the poor, it is currently limited to only wheat and rice (among grains). Millets and coarse grains are rich in micro-nutrients and fibre content, and bringing them into the PDS fold can positively change the consumption pattern of the poor. This would, in addition, also increase the income of farmers who grow coarse grains.
Awareness and knowledge campaigns among mothers and pregnant women can be a great way to sensitise them about the importance of a healthy diet. Even if knowledge campaigns don’t lead to behavioural changes immediately, and such changes may be affected by other social and economic factors, knowledge in itself is necessary is further steps are to be taken.
More importantly, states need to improve investment in social welfare. In a paper titled ‘Child Development Index: How Have Different States Fared’, economists Reetika Khera and Jean Dreze analyse the key reasons for the rapid progress made by Kerala, Tamil Nadu, and Himachal Pradesh in improving their nutrition indicators. They found it was a significant expansion of elementary education and of essential services and facilities, from healthcare and clean water to social security, and providing a voice to the disadvantaged groups, that worked in these states. Perhaps this is the way to go in other states as well
There are two major policy responses to climate change namely mitigation and adaptation. Mitigation addresses the root causes and focuses on reducing future greenhouse gas emissions, while adaptation seeks to lower the risks posed by the effects of climatic change.
Even if we successfully reduce emissions over the next decade, adaptation will still be necessary in order to deal with the short-medium terms risks associated with carbon emissions released over the last century.
Adaptation measures include, but are not limited to, building defences to protect against sea-level rise, deployment of early warning systems against cyclones, revised building codes, crop diversification, micro-irrigation and increased penetration of weather insurance.
The highest risks related to climate change are concentrated among the low-income groups living in houses, which are especially vulnerable to wind and water hazards due to extreme weather events. Mumbai, Kolkata and Chennai are especially prone to bear the brunt of climate change.
The National Adaptation Fund for Climate Change (NAFCC), which was established by the Government of India in 2015-16, aims to support concrete adaptation activities which mitigate the adverse effects of climate change. Till date, 26 projects have been approved at a total cost of Rs 648.90 crore out of which Rs 315.30 crore has been released. This is woefully inadequate given the size of our country and the challenges it faces.
Urban India has been largely ignored vis-a-vis our adaptation efforts. Climate resilience and the risks associated with climate change have failed to find a mention in the smart city proposals approved by the Government of India. It is estimated that without significant investment in climate resilient infrastructure, natural disasters may cost cities worldwide $314 billion each year post 2030.
The first and the foremost step is to incorporate climate risk management into the planning stage itself. A “reverse impact assessment” should be carried out so as to ascertain the impact of climate change on the project in the medium to long term. The present environment impact assessment framework does not allow for the same.
The second step will be to enhance the ability of all stakeholders to raise funds to finance adaptation projects. It has been noted that early investments in preventive adaptation measures are likely to be cheaper and more effective than palliative adaptation namely complex disaster relief efforts following the event. It is estimated that up to 65 per cent of climate risks can be mitigated by deploying preventive measures. Preventive adaptation also addresses the future insurability of the project as property insurance in the absence of effective adaptation measures will become less affordable.
It is not feasible for cities to depend solely on central/state governments to fund all projects aimed at addressing climate risk and must instead rely on alternative sources of revenue. Municipal bonds are an effective way to raise capital for climate adaptation projects.
The primary constraints in developing a municipal bond market are the lack of timely and publicly available information on fiscal performance, debt and contingent liabilities, and governance issues. The need of the hour is to galvanise accounting reforms at the urban local body so as to holistically assess the bodies credit worthiness.
Of the 4041 Urban Local Bodies (ULBs) across the country, only 94 have obtained a credit rating (galvanised by the Smart Cities Mission) and of the 94 cities, 39 cities have credit ratings that are below investment grade. This becomes a major barrier to secure affordable financing on the international market or issue bonds to fund such adaptation projects.
It is pertinent that credit ratings agencies such as Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s that have been evaluating the impact of climate change on the sovereign rating of a country do the same while evaluating the credit worthiness for ULBs in India. ULBs must prepare to address climate risk or risk losing access to cheap credit.
The insurance industry has clearly a role to play here. Presently, the penetration of non-life insurance products in India is among the lowest with premium income forming 0.8 per cent of the gross domestic product in 2016 compared to the global average of 2.8 per cent. This leaves a large asset base uninsured and vulnerable and leads to dependence on government funds for damage repair, relief and restoration.
Indeed, if the government and private sector in India act with urgency and decisiveness, they can save not only assets, but more importantly, lives as well
India’s first “smart and green highway” open to commute now! Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated the Eastern Peripheral Expressway (EPE) today, which is the nation’s very first smart and green highway.
According to the Union Minister Nitin gadkari, by being eco friendly along with world-class safety features and smart/interactive infrastructure, the Eastern Peripheral Expressway will set a benchmark in highway construction.
Built at the cost of nearly Rs 11,000 crore to decongest the national capital, the 135-km-long access-controlled expressway envisages signal-free connectivity between Ghaziabad, Faridabad, Gautam Budh Nagar (Greater Noida) and Palwal.
EPE has been provided with smart and intelligent highway traffic management system and video incident detection system. Also, Over Speed Checking System, Weigh-in-Motion, Warning Devices, Pavement Management Systems, Fiber Optic Network and other facilities have been provided.
Nuclear winter When a devastating nuclear explosion shall take place, the dust released will envelope the atmosphere and cause darkening and cooling of the globe. The chemicals released by the explosion shall also cause depletion of ozone layer.
Ulysses clause Advance directive given by the patient to terminate the treatment in case of irrecoverable state
Surplus value Proposed by Karl marx to denote the financial gains incurred by capitalists by underpaying their workers
Motivated reasoning and Nocebo effect: When a person has prior beliefs he will continue to explain new phenomena in light of his previously held beliefs. Nocebo effect is seen in people who believe that treatment will not heal them and this psychological belief leads them to face some side-effects.
First national sports university to be set up in Manipur : The Union Cabinet has approved an ordinance to set up the country’s first national sports university in Manipur. The Manipur government has already allocated land for the proposed university. As of now, there are some institutes which offer various courses for athletes and coaches. A void exists in the sports environment of the country in various areas such as sports science, sports technology, high performance training. The proposed university is expected to bridge this gap.
This month marks two decades since India crossed the nuclear rubicon in 1998 and declared itself as a de facto nuclear weapon state. It has been a long journey since then and the US India civil nuclear deal was the culmination, making India part of the global nuclear architecture and its integration into the global nuclear order.
But as New Delhi works towards entering the Nuclear Suppliers Group and recalibrates its deterrence vis-à-vis China and Pakistan, debates continue about the future of India as a nuclear power.
A crude nuclear stability has emerged in South Asia as India’s calibrated responses to the three major region crises since May1998 demonstrate. Nuclear weapons have contributed to regional strategic stability by reducing the risk of full scale war in the region.
Despite repeated provocations by Pakistan – in 1999, 2001-02 and 2008 and a resentful Indian public that wanted its government to retaliate, the Indian policymakers demonstrated an extraordinary measure of restraint in the aftermath of all three crises, refusing to launch even small –scale limited attacks against Pakistan. The Indian government forbade the military to cross the line of Control despite the Indian military officials clearly wanting to pursue such a posture.
In 2016, the Modi government changed that when the Indian Army’s special forces took out several suspected terror camps across the volatile Line of Control in Kashmir in response to an attack on an Indian army post in Kashmir by Pakistan-based terrorists that killed 20 soldiers.
The Indian response came almost 11 days after the initial attack and reflected an attempt by the Modi government to pressurize Pakistan on multiple fronts, thereby gaining leverage over an adversary that had long used terrorism and proxies to challenge India.
The Modi government decided to use the instrumentality of military power — a tool which New Delhi had avoided for long. What was new about was not that cross-border raids took place, but that India decided to publicize them to the extent it did.
Pakistan’s reaction was contradictory. While the nation’s military issued a flat denial of Indian claims and insisted that only cross-LoC firing had taken place, Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif decried India’s “naked aggression,” and suggested that India’s move had exacerbated the civil-military divide in the country.
With its move, India did not discard strategic restraint, contrary to what many have suggested, but managed to reset the terms of military engagement with Pakistan. For years now, Pakistan had raised the bogey of nuclear weapons to put India in a state of strategic limbo. After the Uri attacks, Pakistan’s defence minister, Khawaja Muhammad Asif, had waved the nuclear saber and threatened to “annihilate” India if attacked.
But with its strikes, India has managed to convey to Pakistan and to other external stakeholders that Pakistan’s nuclear blackmail has no legs to stand on and that India has military room to operate below the threshold that would trigger major conventional, or even nuclear, escalation.
India is also trying to shape a counter narrative about the ability of India to inflict pain on Pakistan. By constantly deciding not to react militarily to Pakistani provocations, New Delhi was losing its deterrence credibility, further fueling Pakistan’s adventurism.
Indian policymakers cutting across the ideological spectrum have been trying to grapple with Pakistan’s adventurous foreign policy for years now. In fact, former National Security Advisor Shiv Shankar Menon’s book talks of Pakistan’s nuclear shield permitting it to undertake terrorist attacks on India without fear of retaliation, a key variable that is resulting in new ways of looking at India’s posture.
Though the BJP-led government has so far not proposed any change in the doctrine or the No First Use (NFU) on which India’s declaratory nuclear doctrine is based, it had promised in its 2014 election manifesto to “study in detail India’s nuclear doctrine, and revise and update it, to make it relevant to challenges of current times.” Manohar Parrikar, India’s defence minister till early 2017, has questioned India’s NFU policy on nuclear weapons, asking,
“Why a lot of people say that India has No First Use policy… I should say I am a responsible nuclear power and I will not use it irresponsibly… And as an individual, I get a feeling sometime why do I say that I am not going to use it first. I am not saying that you have to use it first just because you don’t decide that you don’t use it first. The hoax can be called off.”
But what really set the cat among the pigeons is a passage in a recent book by India’s former national security advisor, Shiv Shankar Menon, wherein he writes: “There is a potential grey area as to when India would use nuclear weapons first against another NWS (nuclear weapons state). Circumstances are conceivable in which India might find it useful to strike first, for instance, against an NWS that had declared it would certainly use its weapons, and if India were certain that adversary’s launch was imminent.”
This has led some to argue that there is a major doctrinal shift happening in India whereby New Delhi may abandon its NFU nuclear policy and launch a pre-emptive strike against Pakistan if it feared that Islamabad was likely to use the weapons first. This is being viewed by many in the West as a seismic shift in India’s nuclear posture, one which may have significant consequences for South Asian strategic stability.
As we complete twenty years since Pokhran II, it is certainly time to reassess Indian nuclear policy and posture. Indian nuclear doctrine was articulated in 1999 and it certainly needs to be reviewed. All doctrines require regular reappraisals and Indian nuclear doctrine will inevitably have to respond to contemporary challenges. New Delhi should not shy away from this debate.
In February 2014, presenting its report card on the implementation of the Sachar committee recommendations, the UPA government said as much. The status report explained how the government had accepted 72 of the 76 recommendations and took 43 decisions. Education and skill development initiatives topped the list. In the education sector, scholarships for minorities feature prominently. These are one of the most successful initiatives run by MoMA, and corner the maximum monies. The states are the implementing agencies for these schemes, but the Centre bears 75 per cent of the financial burden.
While most of the states readily agreed to implement such obviously sectarian schemes of the UPA government in the name of minority empowerment, the Gujarat government led by the then chief minister Narendra Modi refused to entertain the pre-matric scholarship scheme, citing it as unconstitutional since it was awarded on the basis of religion. The state government moved the Gujarat High Court, which ruled that the scheme was constitutional.
The Gujarat government then took the matter to the Supreme Court, where it argued that “if benefits are extended on the basis of religion, there shall be further alienation of these religious minorities” and that the state “government was against a scheme that had religion as its entry point”.
1) Pre-matric scholarship, the most successful of all such schemes, is given to students from six national minorities studying in classes 1 to 10 with annual family income less than Rs 1 lakh. It witnessed a tremendous increase in its budget in five years of the UPA when it rose from a paltry Rs 202 crore in 2009-10 to Rs 962 crore in 2013-14.
In the last four years of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), this has stabilised below Rs 1,000 crore. However, this is still a thousand-crore extra for a scheme which should have no place in a country that claims to be secular. But anything goes in the name of positive secularism and helping the weaker sections of society. The fact is that Modi as chief minister opposing this scheme tooth and nail gave hope that he would discard it once he became prime minister and make it religion-neutral. However, this hasn’t happened.
The number of beneficiaries had shot up under the UPA regime from 17 lakh in 2009-10 to 77 lakh in 2013-14. However, in the last four years, the number has fallen to 44 lakh. This means that while the budget remains more or less the same, the amount per student has risen.
2) Post-matric scholarship scheme is given to minority students studying in class 11 and above, including in bachelor’s degree courses such as BSc, BCom, and BTech. The annual income criteria for availing the scholarship is set at Rs 2 lakh.
3) Merit-Cum-Means scholarship is for minority students who are enrolled in technical and professional courses at graduation and post-graduation levels and the income of whose families don’t exceed Rs 2.5 lakh per annum.
4) Under free coaching and allied scheme, the government gives scholarships to select coaching institutes that are preparing minority students for competitive examinations. The scheme is aimed at helping minorities increase their share in government and private jobs. Those with family income less than Rs 6 lakh per annum are eligible for it.
6) Maulana Azad Education Foundation receives a corpus fund from MoMA on which it earns interest, which in turn funds its activities. The foundation gives grants-in-aid to non-governmental organisations for construction and expansion of schools, hostels, and technical and vocational training centres meant for minorities. It also awards scholarships to meritorious girl students from minority communities.
7) Under the Padho Pardesh scheme, interest subsidy is awarded to meritorious students belonging to economically weaker sections of six national minority communities to study abroad for master’s, MPhil, or PhD level courses. Total family income of the beneficiary students shouldn’t exceed Rs 6 lakh per annum.
8) Under Nai Udaan, minority students from six notified communities are provided financial support after clearing the preliminary examinations conducted by the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC), State Public Service Commissions (SPSCs) for Group A and B (Gazetted Post), and Staff Selection Commission (Combined Graduate Level) for Group ‘B’ (Non Gazetted posts). The underlying objective is to increase the share of the minority in bureaucracy. Those students with a family income less than Rs 6 lakh per annum qualify for this scheme.
Those who are eligible get up to Rs 1 lakh for clearing the UPSC preliminary exam, Rs 50,000 for SPSC preliminary exam, and Rs 25,000 for SSC-CGL preliminary exam.
9) Seekho aur Kamao is a skill development programme for minorities. MoMA implements this scheme through various agencies at the state and local levels. It has two main components – imparting skill for modern trade and in traditional trades, arts, and crafts. The objective is to bring down unemployment rates among minorities and “to generate means of better livelihood for marginalized minorities”.
10) Under Nai Manzil, MoMA in partnership with World Bank provides education bridge programmes to school dropout minority youth from families below the poverty line. It helps them obtain open schooling certification of class 8 or 10 and also impart high-quality skill training, including soft skills to enhance their employment capabilities.
11) USTTAD has many components, from upgrading of skills and training in traditional arts and crafts through various institutions, to offering apprenticeship stipend for research and development, to providing support to minority artisans in marketing their products through the Hunar Haat exhibitions. It’s a 100 per cent centrally funded scheme and provides assistance of Rs 10,000 per month to each trainee and is routed through various organisations that launch such initiatives to train minorities.
These are the main schemes in education, skill training, and employment generation that are currently being run by MoMA.
Not only has the Modi government continued these UPA-era schemes, but it has also launched its own initiatives such as Padho Pardesh, Nai Manzil, and USTTAD. As noted in the beginning, this sectarianism flows chiefly from the Prime Minister’s 15-point programme and Sachar committee recommendations.