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Held on arrival: on Karti Chidambaram's arrest

MARCH 01, 2018 00:02 IST
UPDATED: FEBRUARY 28, 2018 23:31 IST

Having arrested Karti, the least the CBI is obliged to do is flesh out the case against him

W hether the arrest of Karti Chidambaram, son of former Union Minister P.

Chidambaram, will result in some forward movement in a criminal investigation that has been
going on for a long time remains to be seen. The action by the Central Bureau of Investigation
comes as many as nine months after it registered an FIR, which raises the question about why it
was necessary to seek his remand now. In its FIR of May 2017, the CBI accused Mr. Karti of being
part of a conspiracy with the promoters of a media company to help them get around legal
issues related to foreign direct investment. Details available suggest that the primary
violations of FDI norms were allegedly committed by the companies involved, INX Media (P)
Ltd. and INX News (P) Ltd. The Foreign Investment Promotion Board had cleared the inflow of
₹4.62 crore to INX Media. However, the company made a downstream investment in another
company, INX News, which received ₹300 crore by allocating shares at a premium to investors.
The FIPB’s stand was that such downstream investment required separate clearance. The FIR
alleges that in order to avoid penal action, INX Media roped in Mr. Karti to influence “public
servants of the FIPB Unit in the Finance Ministry by virtue of his relationship to the then
Finance Minister”. The charges against him flow from the claim that a company said to be
linked to him received ₹10 lakh as “management consultancy charges towards FIPB notification
and clarification” and that other companies in which he allegedly had interests billed INX
Media to the tune of ₹3.50 crore in the name of providing media content and consultancy. New
charges of Mr. Karti accepting $1 million from INX Media have been used to secure his remand.
That the allegations are serious and deserving of a thorough probe is not
in doubt. The question is whether there is need to arrest someone in a case
like this — where the evidence is largely, if not entirely, documentary;
where the risks of influencing the investigation or tampering with
evidence are remote, if not non-existent; and where there is no
arrest: CBI a apprehension of him fleeing the country and evading the law. The arrest
‘captive puppet’
of government, closely follows that of his chartered accountant and the interrogation of
says Congress Indrani Mukherjee, who was the co-founder of INX Media and its former
CEO. As things stand, the CBI will be aware that its case against Mr. Karti will add up to
something only if it is able to furnish specific details to establish that he was part of a
conspiracy to influence FIPB approvals along with officials of the Finance Ministry. If one leaves
aside the ₹10 lakh payment, the other details in the FIR are of a somewhat general nature and
need to be backed up with documentary evidence. Failure to do so will only result in lending
greater credibility to those who dismiss the case against Mr. Karti as political vendetta, and
raise further questions about the necessity of and the motives for having him arrested.
Redux - brought back, revived


E-way bills redux: next step for GST Council

MARCH 01, 2018 00:02 IST
UPDATED: FEBRUARY 28, 2018 23:35 IST

This next step in the GST regime must factor in industry and States’ reservations

T he group of ministers assessing technology issues related to the Goods and Services Tax
regime has proposed rolling out on April 1 the e-way bill system to track inter-State
movement of goods above the value of ₹50,000. A final decision on the launch of the system
will now be taken by the GST Council at its next meeting. A plan to start it on February 1 had to
be abandoned after the IT network to create the bills crashed in its first few hours after
generating about five lakh bills. The government decided to defer its roll-out till the technical
glitches, like those businesses faced while filing online returns on the GST Network initially
after its July 1 roll-out last year, were removed. For intra-State goods movement, the
government had said all States must launch their own e-way bill systems by June 1. Now the
ministerial group headed by Bihar Finance Minister Sushil Modi has proposed that instead of
bringing all States and Union Territories on board together, introducing intra-State e-way Bills
in four or five at a time is better. For businesses with operations across the country, this
proposal will pose a fresh compliance headache as some States may require e-way Bills for
internal movement of goods while others will not. Industry already has several reservations
about the e-way bill regime, including the norm that such bills are generated for all goods
travelling 10 km from the point of origin.

The government’s haste is understandable, given its fiscal compulsions.
Transit gambit:
on e-way bill After a monthly inflow of over ₹90,000 crore in the first three months of
mechanism for
transport of
the tax regime, revenue collections dipped. From a peak of ₹92,283 crore
goods in July 2017 — that the Centre reckoned was adequate to deal with its
revenue targets and compensate States for revenue losses — GST
collections between October and January averaged ₹84,294 crore per
month. This may be partly because of the large-scale rationalisation of
tax rates carried out recently, but registered taxpayers are also finding
ways to avoid tax dues. Data for January bear this out — about 69% of the over one crore
registered businesses filed returns, with wide variations across territories. In Punjab, 83%
taxpayers filed returns, while industrially developed States, including Maharashtra and Tamil
Nadu, didn’t fare as well. This disparity must be factored in by the GST Council when it
considers proposals for a staggered launch of the intra-State e-way bill system. Boosting
compliance is critical for further rationalisation of multiple GST rates, the Finance Minister
has said. To achieve that goal, it must be ensured that States and industry are comfortable with
the e-way bill regime, and that the IT backbone doesn’t crash this time.

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Undergird - secure or fasten from the underside, provide support or a firm basis for.
Rub - the central problem or difficulty in a situation.
Leeway - the amount of freedom to move or act that is available.
Beset - trouble (someone or something) persistently.
Profligate - recklessly extravagant or wasteful in the use of resources.
Out of the woods - freed from a previous state of uncertainty or danger


Buoyant again: on India's GDP growth

MARCH 02, 2018 00:15 IST
UPDATED: MARCH 01, 2018 23:33 IST

But this GDP growth coincides with higher public spending, which risks fanning

T he latest economic data from the Central Statistics Office reveal that India’s GDP
expanded at a brisk 7.2% pace in the three months ended December, an acceleration from the
6.5% posted in the second quarter. On the face of it, the numbers are cause for cheer and
optimism, with gross fixed capital formation, a key measure of investment demand, showing a
healthy improvement. Sectoral gross value added (GVA) figures also reflect a broad-based
pickup in activity from the preceding quarter. The only three laggards last quarter were
mining; utility services (including electricity, gas, and water supply); and trade, hotels,
transport and communication services. The contraction in mining is of particular concern.
The October-December quarter in 2016 was, however, the period when the Centre
implemented the widely disruptive demonetisation of high-value currency notes, and so one
has to bear in mind the base effect on the latest third-quarter data. Also, the CSO’s second
advance estimates of national income for the full financial year are a lot more sobering. Both
GDP and GVA growth estimates for 2017-18 have been revised upwards from the first-cut
projections made in early January — GDP growth to 6.6% from 6.5% earlier as a result of GVA
expansion being lifted to 6.4% from January’s 6.1%. But the assumption for increase in net
taxes has been pared, reflecting the struggle to ensure buoyancy in GST revenue collections.
A study of the full-year projections reveals the pressure points. The same sectoral GVA data
that at a quarterly level appeared to give promise of a more enduring recovery show
momentum in five of the eight sectors decelerating. Of particular concern are the farm sector,
where growth is set to slow to 3% from 6.3% in the previous fiscal; and manufacturing where
the pace is expected to ease to 5.1% from 7.9% in the revised estimate for 2016-17. The latest
Index of Industrial Production numbers that show manufacturing in April-December still
significantly lagging behind the previous nine-month period, as also the Nikkei India
Manufacturing Purchasing Manager’s Index that shows growth in the sector slowed to a four-
month low in February, add to concerns about manufacturing. With private final consumption
expenditure, a crucial driver of economic momentum, still to gain traction over the full
financial year, it is increased government spending that has undergirded the expansion. Here
lies the rub. The leeway for more pump priming is restricted as fiscal deficit at the end of
January has already exceeded 113% of the revised estimate for the full year. Any more
profligacy by the government risks threatening price stability. With the banking sector beset
by bad loans and increased scrutiny on lending in the wake of frauds, and exporters still to
make the most of the revival in global trade demand, the economy is not yet out of the woods.

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War and peace: on Kabul's peace proposal with the Taliban

MARCH 02, 2018 00:15 IST
UPDATED: MARCH 01, 2018 23:41 IST

Kabul extends a peace proposal to the Taliban. But will it be accepted?

A fghan President Ashraf Ghani’s offer of talks with the Taliban is the most
comprehensive peace proposal to have come from Kabul since the U.S.-led invasion of
Afghanistan in 2001. Speaking at the Kabul Process, a two-day security conference in the city
with more than 20 countries including India represented, Mr. Ghani promised to recognise the
Taliban as a political party, called for confidence-building measures and asked them to
recognise the Kabul regime and the constitution. The Taliban was told to open an office in
Kabul; passports and freedom of travel were offered to those involved in negotiations. This is
not the first official attempt to make peace with the Taliban. In July 2015, Taliban and Afghan
government representatives held talks in Pakistan. But the talks collapsed when it emerged
that Taliban leader Mullah Omar had died two years earlier. Ever since, the Taliban has stepped
up its violent campaign, killing thousands. This time the difference is that the Afghan
government has come up with a seven-point plan of engagement with the Taliban and invited
the group for talks without preconditions: the previous formulation was that the Taliban
should choose between war and peace. Mr. Ghani has not set any time limit for the Taliban to
respond. He has said the views and proposals of the Taliban would be considered, thereby
lobbing the ball into the Taliban’s court.

Mr. Ghani’s offer comes a month after U.S. President Donald Trump ruled
welcomes out talks with the Taliban. The Trump administration has also
Ghani’s peace
offer to Taliban
committed more troops to Afghanistan. But given how much Kabul
relies on the U.S. for support, it is unlikely that Mr. Ghani would have
made such a significant offer to the Taliban without U.S. consent. The
reason could be desperation. After more than 16 years of war, the Afghan
government is helplessly watching the Taliban spread its influence
across rural areas. In the east, the Islamic State has gained ground. Over
the years the U.S. had tried tactics including a troops surge, putting pressure on Pakistan to
use its leverage with the Taliban and promoting secret talks. But nothing worked, and the
Taliban has established a strong presence in almost two-thirds of Afghanistan, and is
constantly on the offensive. It has shown a capacity to strike at the most fortified positions in
Kabul, but knows it cannot capture the city as long as the Americans remain committed to the
government’s security. Therefore, both sides have an incentive to break the stalemate and try
direct negotiations for a way out. If the Taliban accepts Mr. Ghani’s proposal, that could set the
stage for a constructive engagement between the militants and the government, and provide
hope for some much-needed relief to the war-hit Afghan people.
Gross Fixed Capital Formulation - It measures the value of acquisitions of new or existing fixed assets by the
business sector, governments and "pure" households (excluding their unincorporated enterprises) less disposals
of fixed assets. GFCF is a component of the expenditure on gross domestic product (GDP), and thus shows
something about how much of the new value added in the economy is invested rather than consumed.

GFCF is not a measure of total investment, because only the value of net additions to fixed assets is measured,
and all kinds of financial assets are excluded, as well as stocks of inventories and other operating costs (the latter
included in intermediate consumption). If, for example, one examines a company balance sheet, it is easy to see
that fixed assets are only one component of the total annual capital outlay.
The most important exclusion from GFCF is land sales and purchases.

Gross Value Added Figures GVA - Gross value added (GVA) is the measure of the value of goods and services
produced in an area, industry or sector of an economy. In national accounts GVA is output minus intermediate
consumption. GVA is linked as a measurement to gross domestic product (gdp), as both are measures of output.
The relationship is defined as:
GVA + taxes on products - subsidies on products = GDP
Index of Industrial Production (IIP): Made Easy to

November 2, 2016

You all know that GDP measures the overall activity (production) in the Indian Economy.
But is there any index which specifically captures the industrial activity in the Indian
Economy? Yes, this index is known as Index of Industrial Production (IIP).

What is IIP?

Index of Industrial Production (IIP) is an index which helps us understand

the growth of various sectors in the Indian economy such as mining, electricity and
IIP is a short term indicator of industrial growth till the results from Annual Survey of
Industries (ASI) and National Accounts Statistics (Eg: GDP) are available.
The base year of the index is given a value of 100. The current base year for the IIP
series in India is 2011-12. So, if the current IIP reads 180, it means that there has
been 80% industrial growth compared to the base year, ie 2011-12.

Who releases IIP?

Index of Industrial Production (IIP) is released by the Central Statistics Office (CSO) of
the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation.
IIP is published monthly, six weeks after the reference month ends.

IIP Old Series Data: 2004-05

The current base year for the IIP series in India is 2011-12. The old series data is given
just for reference/comparison.

IIP data 2004-05 is sourced by 16 agencies!

IIP is compiled using data received from 16 source agencies viz. Department of Industrial
Policy & Promotion (DIPP); Indian Bureau of Mines; Central Electricity Authority; Joint Plant
Committee; Ministry of Petroleum & Natural Gas; Office of Textile Commissioner;
Department of Chemicals & Petrochemicals; Directorate of Sugar; Department of
Fertilizers; Directorate of Vanaspati, Vegetable Oils & Fats; Tea Board; Office of Jute
Commissioner; Office of Coal Controller; Railway Board; Office of Salt Commissioner and
Coffee Board.

Also read: REPO and CRR Rate Cuts - What Should You Understand?

IIP 2004-05 covers 682 items!

We have already seen that IIP measures industrial growth. It measures the short term
changes in the volume of production of a basket of industrial products. The current IIP
basket covers 682 representative items.

Mining (61 items) – 14.16% weight

Manufacturing (620 items) – 75.53% weight
Electricity (1 item) – 10.32% weight.

Note: Even though United Nations Statistics Division suggests to also include Gas steam,
Air conditioning supply, Water supply, Sewerage, Waste Management and Remediation
activities in the IIP, due to data constraints Indian IIP only covers three sectors – mining,
manufacturing and electricity. These three are called broad sectors.

IIP also gives us an idea about use-based sectors – another classification. User-based
sectors include Basic Goods, Capital Goods and Intermediate Goods.

Weighted arithmetic mean of quantity relatives with weights being allotted to various items
in proportion to value added by manufacture in the base year by using Laspeyres’ formula.

Core Industries and IIP 2004

Coal, Crude Oil, Natural Gas, Refinery Product, Steel, Cement and Electricity are known as
Core Industries. The eight Core Industries comprise nearly 37.9 % of the weight of items
included in the Index of Industrial Production (IIP). The 8 core industries are their relative
weight in IIP is as below:

1. Coal (weight: 4.38 %).

2. Crude Oil (weight: 5.22 %).
3. Natural Gas (weight: 1.71 %).
4. Refinery Products (weight: 5.94%).
5. Fertilizers (weight: 1.25%).
6. Steel (weight: 6.68%).
7. Cement (weight: 2.41%).
8. Electricity (weight: 10.32%)

Annual Survey of Industries (ASI) Vs Index of Industrial

Production (IIP)
The Industrial Output data is captured and monitored, primarily, through two statistical
activities – Annual Survey of Industries (ASI) and Index of Industrial Production (IIP).

Also read: 7 Initiatives by the Government to Promote Energy Efficiency and Energy

ASI is calculated on an annual basis
The ASI is conducted under the Collection of Statistics Act, since 1959.
The objective is to obtain comprehensive and detailed statistics of industrial sector
with the objective of estimating the contribution of registered manufacturing industries
as a whole to the national income.
ASI data is based on the actual book of accounts and other documents maintained by
registered factories.

IIP is calculated on a monthly basis.
Data for IIP are collected by various source agencies under different Acts/statutes.
The IIP is compiled on the basis of data sourced from 16 ministries/ administrative

Industry vs Manufacturing
Though often interchangeably used, the terms industry and manufacturing are different.

The term industry is comprehensive and may be considered as a superset of

manufacturing. Industry, in general, refers to an economic activity that is concerned with
the production of goods, extraction of minerals and sometimes even for the provision of
services. Thus we have iron and steel industry (production of goods), coal mining industry
(extraction of coal) and tourism industry (service provider).

So what is manufacturing then?

Manufacturing: Production of goods in large quantities after processing from raw materials
to more valuable products is called manufacturing.
Industry = Manufacturing + Mining + Electricity + much more.

Share of Industrial Sector in the total GDP of India

The total Industrial sector has only around 27 percent share in the total GDP of India. Over
the last two decades, the share of the manufacturing sector has stagnated at 17 per cent of
GDP – out of a total of 27 per cent for the industry which includes 10 per cent for mining,
quarrying, electricity and gas.

The share of Manufacturing in the GDP of India – 17%.

The share of Mining, quarrying, electricity and gas in the GDP of India – 10%.
Total share of Industrial Sector = 27%

Also read: Unified Payment Interface (UPI): Made Simple

Steps to boost manufacturing

1. National Manufacturing Competitiveness Council (NMCC): The National
Manufacturing Competitiveness Council (NMCC) has been set up by the Government
to provide a continuing forum for policy dialogue to energise and sustain the growth
of manufacturing industries in India.
2. Make in India Initiative.
3. National Investment and Manufacturing Zones (NIMZs).
4. Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor (DMIC).

Forfeiture - the loss or giving up of something as a penalty for wrongdoing.
Cock a snook - Place one's hand so that the thumb touches one's nose and the fingers are spread out, in
order to express contempt
Impunity - exemption from punishment or freedom from the injurious consequences of an action.
Recoup - regain / reimburse or compensate (someone) for money spent or lost.


Fear of forfeiture: on the Fugitive Economic Offenders Bill

MARCH 03, 2018 00:15 IST
UPDATED: MARCH 02, 2018 23:43 IST

It is unclear whether the threat of confiscation of property will encourage fugitives

to return

G iven the apparent ease with which economic offenders flee India and cock a snook at
the banking and judicial systems, the proposed law to seize their wealth is undoubtedly a
welcome measure. In fact, given the public disquiet over the apparent impunity enjoyed by
billionaire fraudsters living in the safety of foreign climes, any new law is likely to be viewed
in a positive light. However, its success rides on the slim hope that the threat of confiscation
of property will act as a serious deterrent to those seeking to flee or as a big incentive for
fugitives to return. Legal provisions to confiscate the assets of offenders already exist, but
these are regarded as somewhat inadequate. The Fugitive Economic Offenders Bill, which
has been cleared by the Cabinet, aims to make up for the shortcomings and provide a fresh
legal framework that would enable the confiscation of the property of those evading
prosecution by fleeing the country or remaining abroad. From the provision in the Code of
Criminal Procedure for attachment of the property of ‘proclaimed offenders’, to sections in
Acts targeting smugglers, foreign exchange offenders and traffickers in narcotics,
proceedings for forfeiture of property have been marked by shortcomings and procedural
delays. But laws deemed draconian, such as the Smugglers and Foreign Exchange
Manipulators (Forfeiture of Property) Act, 1976, have not exactly been a success. Experience
has shown that disposal of confiscated assets is not easy, especially at a price sufficient to
recoup losses or pay off all creditors.

Under the Fugitive Economic Offenders Bill, confiscation is not limited to the proceeds of
crime, and extends to any asset owned by an offender, including benami property. Such
clauses are liable for legal challenge, especially if there are third party interests and doubts
about real ownership. Care must be taken to draft a law that is free from legal infirmities
from the point of view of fundamental rights and due process. The government has justified
not linking the forfeiture clause to criminal conviction by citing the principle enshrined in
the UN Convention Against Corruption, which India ratified in 2011. The convention
envisages domestic laws for confiscation of property without a criminal conviction in cases
in which the offenders cannot be prosecuted for reasons of death, flight or absence. The Bill
is reasonable in that a fugitive offender will cease to be one if he or she appears before court.
There is a 180-day window during which the property will remain attached, with a provision
for appeal against an order of confiscation. While the utility and effectiveness of laws are
best assessed in the implementation, it is important to ensure they are fair and reasonable.
The shortcomings in previous laws must be avoided, and the new legal regime impartially
Adis Ababa - largest & capital city of Ethipoia.
Entrench - ingrained, firmly established and difficult or unlikely to change.
Squander - waste in a reckless and foolish manner.


Transition trouble: on the emergency in Ethiopia

MARCH 03, 2018 00:15 IST
UPDATED: MARCH 02, 2018 23:50 IST

The ruling front in Ethiopia should make political succession less autocratic

T he state of emergency reimposed after Hailemariam Desalegn’s resignation as

Prime Minister in mid-February marks a reversal in Addis Ababa. It was in August last
year that the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front government had lifted
an emergency clamped in 2016. In January, it released thousands of protesters, including
top politicians and journalists. Most of those imprisoned had been accused of treason,
terrorism and other criminal acts, charges that drew wide international condemnation.
Together, these moves were regarded as an attempt at national reconciliation showing a
willingness to usher in a more open and participatory political process after nearly three
years of political unrest. But recent events suggest that the state is prepared to unleash
further repression when it fails to quell protests. Underlying the discontent is the uneven
nature of distribution of the benefits of economic growth in Ethiopia, one of the best-
performing economies in Africa in recent years. Besides the simmering popular protests,
instability also derives from a jostling within the EPRDF, which has ruled since 1991.
There appears to be a pushback against the disproportionate dominance in the ruling
coalition of ethnic Tigrayans, who account for a small fraction of the country’s
population. There is speculation, therefore, that bringing in a Prime Minister from the
Oromo community, which makes up more than a third of Ethiopia’s population, could
calm sentiments in the streets.

There is some talk that the new spell of emergency may be aimed to ensure a smooth
transition to the next Prime Minister. Besides keeping a check on anti-government
mobilisation, a state of emergency empowers the authorities to ensure that public
services are not disrupted and businesses don’t shut down as a mark of protest. However,
the ban on protests and curbs on media freedom will inhibit a frank debate between the
government and the opposition. The Zanu-PF in Zimbabwe and the ANC in South Africa
have in recent months demonstrated how entrenched political parties can regain public
credibility that some of their self-seeking leaders have squandered away, by ensuring
political succession in a relatively open and transparent manner. Although of an
autocratic bent, the EPRDF should use this opportunity of charting a post-Desalegn
future to restore stability after years of political turmoil. The Front, which enjoys
absolute control in parliament, could make a modest beginning by respecting the rule of
law and giving Ethiopia’s diverse ethnic communities a sense of political representation.
That may be the lone guarantee to sustain the impressive economic growth the country
has registered in recent years. Ethiopia’s new Prime Minister has his or her task cut out.

Small arena, big win: on the BJP victory in Tripura

MARCH 05, 2018 00:02 IST
UPDATED: MARCH 05, 2018 08:11 IST

For the BJP, the import of its victory in Tripura goes beyond numbers

T here is a reason that the Bharatiya Janata Party is disproportionately pleased with its
performance in Tripura, which sends only two members to the Lok Sabha. From zero to 35
seats in the 60-member Assembly in five years is unarguably no mean electoral
accomplishment. But having done this by beating the Left Front, its strongest ideological
opponent, even if not the biggest political threat nationally, has given Prime Minister
Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah a special satisfaction. Mr. Modi wanted a
victory in Tripura to be celebrated as much as the victory in Uttar Pradesh, which sends the
largest number of members to the Lok Sabha. Mr. Shah saw in Tripura a reason for his party
workers in West Bengal and Kerala to be extremely happy. The BJP likes to imagine that the
Left has wielded a disproportionate influence on political discourse, resulting in pushing
the entire Sangh Parivar into a place of political isolation and unacceptability. It is true that
the BJP’s difficulties in finding allies for much of the eighties and the nineties had a lot to
do with the Left, particularly the Communist Party of India (Marxist), which propped up an
effective secular platform for regional parties opposed to the Congress. If the BJP kept its
core Hindutva issues on the back burner during the Vajpayee years in government, then it
was in no small measure due to pressure from its allies who were earlier part of a Left-
backed grouping that treated the Congress as the biggest enemy and the BJP as beyond the
pale. The real story in Tripura is of course the collapse of the Congress vote-bank. Clearly,
the anti-Left, anti-incumbency vote, which includes the tribal vote, has moved completely
to the BJP. A tie-up with the Congress, therefore, would not have been the answer to the
Left’s loss in Tripura, where it ruled for 25 years. What it needs to do is win back some of the
tribal votes that the Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura spirited away to the BJP.

The BJP has something to cheer about in Nagaland as well: it won 11 seats and is in a
position to form a government with the support of its ally, the Nationalist Democratic
Progressive Party, a breakaway group of a former ally, the Naga Peoples Front. The smaller
northeastern States, heavily dependent on the Centre for funds, have a tendency to back
the party ruling at the Centre. Like the Congress earlier, the BJP is currently the beneficiary.
In Meghalaya, the Congress managed to emerge as the single largest party, but the BJP, with
two members, is helping the National People’s Party form the government. After being
denied in Manipur and Goa last year, when it could not form the government despite being
the single largest party, the Congress actively pursued alliances, but with little luck. The
Northeast is in no position to help any party win the battle for the Lok Sabha, but the
winner of the battle for the Lok Sabha is in the best position to win the Northeast.
Salvo - a sudden, vigorous, or aggressive act or series of acts.
Trade War - a situation in which countries try to damage each other's trade, typically by the imposition of
tariffs or quota restrictions.


Avoid trade wars: on America's decision to impose tariffs

MARCH 05, 2018 00:02 IST
UPDATED: MARCH 04, 2018 23:36 IST

Throwing free trade out of the window will make Americans and everyone else

W orld leaders did well to avoid protectionist trade policies in the aftermath of the
Great Recession of 2008. After all, they had learned their lessons from the global trade war
of the 1930s which deepened and prolonged the Great Depression, or so it was thought.
American President Donald Trump last week announced that his administration would
soon impose tariffs on the import of steel and aluminium into the U.S. for an indefinite
period of time. The European Union, one of the largest trading partners of the U.S., has
since vowed to return the favour through retaliatory measures targeting American
exporters. The EU is expected to come out with a list of over 100 items imported from the
U.S. that will be subject to scrutiny. For his part, Mr. Trump has justified the decision to
impose protective tariffs by citing the U.S.’s huge trade deficit with the rest of the world.
He explained his logic in a tweet on Friday which exposed a shocking ignorance of basic
economics. He likened his country’s trade deficit to a loss that would be set right by
simply stopping trade with the rest of the world. International trade, like trade within the
boundaries of any country, however, is not a zero-sum game. So the trade deficit does not
represent a country’s loss either, but merely the flip side of a capital account surplus. This
is not to deny that there are definitely some losers — for example, the U.S. manufacturing
industry which lost out to competition from countries such as China due to increasing
globalisation. But throwing free trade out of the window would only make Americans and
everyone else poorer.
Despite the global backlash, it is unlikely that Mr. Trump will walk back on his decision,
especially given its populist resonance. Steelworkers in key States in the U.S. played a
significant role in Mr. Trump’s election win in 2016. In fact, these are the only people who
will benefit from the steel and aluminium tariffs while American consumers as a whole
will pay higher prices for their goods. Mr. Trump’s desire to appeal to populist sentiment
also explains why his protectionist turn comes in the midst of steadily improving
economic growth. With Mr. Trump’s tariffs not going down well with the EU, it will be
important to see how China and other major trading partners respond to his opening
salvo. They can take a leaf out of the books of major global central banks which have
shown enough maturity to avoid using currency wars as a means to settle disputes.
Instead of retaliating with more tariffs, which could cause the current dispute to spiral
into a full-fledged global trade war, the U.S.’s trading partners must try to achieve peace
through negotiations.
By Elvis Picardo, CFA

A currency war refers to a situation where a number of nations seek to deliberately depreciate the
value of their domestic currencies in order to stimulate their economies. Although currency
depreciation or devaluation is a common occurrence in the foreign exchange market, the hallmark of
a currency war is the significant number of nations that may be simultaneously engaged in attempts
to devalue their currency at the same time.

Are We in a Currency War?

A currency war is also known by the less threatening term  "competitive devaluation." In the current
era of floating exchange rates, where currency values are determined by market forces, currency
depreciation is usually engineered by a nation's central bank through economic policies that may
force the currency lower, such as reducing interest rates or increasingly, "quantitative easing (QE)."
This introduces more complexities than the currency wars of decades ago, when fixed exchange
rates were more prevalent and a nation could devalue its currency by the simple expedient of
lowering the "peg" to which its currency was fixed.

"Currency war" is not a term that is loosely bandied about in the genteel world of economics and
central banking, which is why former Brazilian Finance Minister Guido Mantega stirred such a
hornet's nest in September 2010 when he warned that an international currency war had broken
out. But with more than 20 countries having reduced interest rates or implemented measures to
ease monetary policy from January to April 2015, the trillion-dollar question is – are we already in
the midst of a currency war?

Why Depreciate a Currency?

It may seem counter-intuitive, but a strong currency is not necessarily in a nation's best interests. A
weak domestic currency makes a nation's exports more competitive in global markets, and
simultaneously makes imports more expensive. Higher export volumes spur economic growth, while
pricey imports also have a similar e ect because consumers opt for local alternatives to imported
products. This improvement in the terms of trade generally translates into a lower current account
deficit (or a greater current account surplus), higher employment, and faster GDP growth. The
stimulative monetary policies that usually result in a weak currency also have a positive impact on
the nation's capital and housing markets, which in turn boosts domestic consumption through the
wealth e ect.

Beggar Thy Neighbor

Since it is not too di icult to pursue growth through currency depreciation – whether overt or covert
– it should come as no surprise that if nation A devalues its currency, nation B will soon follow suit,
followed by nation C, and so on. This is the essence of competitive devaluation.

This phenomenon is also known as "beggar thy neighbor," which far from being the Shakespearean
drama that it sounds like, actually refers to the fact that a nation which follows a policy of
competitive devaluation is vigorously pursuing its own self interests to the exclusion of everything

US Dollar Surging

When Brazilian minister Mantega warned back in September 2010 about a currency war, he was
referring to the growing turmoil in foreign exchange markets, sparked by the US Federal Reserve's
quantitative easing program that was weakening the dollar, China's continued suppression of the
yuan, and interventions by a number of Asian central banks to prevent their currencies from

Ironically, the US dollar has appreciated against almost all major currencies since the beginning of
2011, with the trade-weighted Dollar Index presently trading at its highest level in more than a
decade. Every major currency has declined against the dollar over the past year (as of April 17, 2015),
with the euro, the Scandinavian currencies, the Russian ruble, and Brazilian real down more than
20% over this period.

The US Strong Dollar Policy

The US economy has withstood the e ects of the stronger dollar without too many problems thus
far, although one notable issue is the substantial number of American multinationals that have
cautioned about the negative impact of the strong dollar on their earnings.

The US has generally pursued a "strong dollar" policy with varying degrees of success over the years.
However, the US situation is unique since it is the world's largest economy and the US dollar is the
global reserve currency. The strong dollar increases the attractiveness of the US as a destination for
foreign direct investment (FDI) and foreign portfolio investment (FPI). Not surprisingly, the US is
o en a premier destination in both categories. The US is also less reliant on exports than most other
nations for economic growth, because of its giant consumer market that is by far the biggest in the

Present Situation

The dollar is surging primarily because the US is about the only major nation that is poised to
unwind its monetary stimulus program, a er being the first one out of the gate to introduce QE. This
lead-time has enabled the US economy to respond in a positive manner to the Federal Reserve's
successive rounds of QE programs. In its recent World Economic Outlook update, the International
Monetary Fund projected that the US economy would grow by 3.1% in 2015 and 2016, the fastest
growth rate of the G-7 nations.

Contrast this with the situation in other global powerhouses like Japan and the European Union,
which have been relatively late to the QE party. Countries like Canada, Australia, and India, which
had raised interest rates within a couple of years a er the end of the Great Recession of 2007-09,
have had to subsequently ease monetary policy because growth momentum has slowed.

Policy Divergence  

So on the one hand, we have the US, which could well hike its benchmark federal funds rate in 2015,
the first increase since 2006. On the other hand, there is the rest of the world, which is largely
pursuing easier monetary policies. This divergence in monetary policy is the major reason why the
dollar is appreciating across the board.

The situation is exacerbated by a number of factors:

Economic growth in most regions has been below historical norms in recent years; many
experts attribute this sub-par growth to the fallout of the Great Recession.
Most nations have exhausted all options to stimulate growth, given that interest rates in
numerous countries are already either near zero or at historic lows. With no further rate cuts
possible and fiscal stimulus not an option (as fiscal deficits have come under intense scrutiny
in recent years), currency depreciation is the only tool remaining to boost economic growth.
Sovereign bond yields for short-term to medium-term maturities have turned negative for a
number of nations. In this extremely low-yield environment, US Treasuries – which yielded
1.86% for 10-year maturities and 2.52% for 30 years as of April 17, 2015 – are attracting a great
deal of interest, leading to more dollar demand.

Negative E ects of a Currency War

Currency depreciation is not the panacea for all economic problems. Brazil is a case in point. The
Brazilian real has plunged 48% since 2011, but the steep currency devaluation has been unable to
o set other problems such as plunging crude oil and commodity prices, and a widening corruption
scandal. As a result, the Brazilian economy is forecast by the IMF to contract 1% in 2015, a er barely
growing in 2014.

So what are the negative e ects of a currency war?

Currency devaluation may lower productivity in the long-term, since imports of capital
equipment and machinery become too expensive for local businesses. If currency
depreciation is not accompanied by genuine structural reforms, productivity will eventually
su er.
The degree of currency depreciation may be greater than what is desired, which may
eventually cause rising inflation and capital outflows.
A currency war may lead to greater protectionism and the erecting of trade barriers, which
would impede global trade.
Competitive devaluation may cause an increase in currency volatility, which in turn would
lead to higher hedging costs for companies and possibly deter foreign investment.

The Bottom Line

Despite some evidence that may suggest the contrary, it does not appear that the world is currently
in the grip of a currency war. Recent rounds of easy money policies by numerous countries around
the world represent e orts to combat the challenges of a low-growth, deflationary environment,
rather than an attempt to steal a march on the competition through surreptitious currency
What is the di erence between foreign
investment and foreign direct investme
By J.B. Maverick | Updated January 30, 2018 — 5:40 PM EST

Foreign direct investment (FDI) involves establishing a direct business interest in a foreign
country, such as buying or establishing a manufacturing business, while foreign portfolio
investment (FPI) refers to investing in financial assets such as stocks or bonds in a foreign country. A
number of other di erences follow from the basic di erence in the nature of these two types of

When making foreign investments, investors have to consider economic factors as well as other risk
factors, such as political instability and currency exchange risk.

Foreign Direct Investment

Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) tends to involve establishing more of a substantial, long-term
interest in the economy of a foreign country. Due to the significantly higher level of investment
required, FDI is usually undertaken by multinational companies or venture capital firms.

At the same time, the nature of FDI, such as creating or acquiring a manufacturing facility, makes it
much more di icult to liquidate or pull out of the investment. For this reason, FDI is usually
undertaken with essentially the same attitude as establishing a business in one's own country—with
the intention of making the business profitable and continuing its operation indefinitely. FDI
includes having control over the business invested in and being able to manage it directly.

Foreign Portfolio Investment

FPI typically has a shorter time frame for investment return than FDI. As with any equity investment,
FPI investors usually expect to quickly realize a profit on their investments. But unlike FDI, FPI
doesn't o er control over the business entity in which the investment is made.

As securities are easily traded, the liquidity of FPIs makes them much easier to sell than FDIs. FPIs
are more accessible for the average investor than FDIs because they require much less investment

Water scarcity is the lack of fresh water resources to meet water demand. It affects every continent and was listed in
2015 by the World Economic Forum as the largest global risk in terms of potential impact over the next decade.

Urban Heat Island Effect - As cities develop, vegetation is often lost and more surfaces are paved or covered with
buildings. Less vegetation means less shade and moisture to keep urban areas cool. Conventional roofs and pavement
reflect less and absorb more of the sun’s energy, which leads to higher temperatures near these structures.
Additionally, tall buildings and narrow streets can reduce air flow, further trapping the heat that gets absorbed during
the day, as well as heat generated by vehicles, factories, and air conditioning vents. All these factors contribute to urban
heat islands, which can worsen the impacts of climate change, particularly as more extreme heat events occur.
Compared with surrounding rural areas, urban heat islands have higher daytime maximum temperatures and less night
time cooling.

High noon: dealing with above-normal temperatures

MARCH 06, 2018 00:02 IST
UPDATED: MARCH 05, 2018 23:35 IST

Governments must ensure local-level interventions to deal with heat stress

T he India Meteorological Department’s forecast of above-normal maximum and

minimum temperatures across the country during the pre-monsoon March-May period is
a timely alert for State authorities to review their preparedness. Even a marginal rise above
the normal will lead to enormous heat stress for millions of Indians, given the deprived
conditions in which they live. Moreover, there are distinct groups at particular risk for
health-related problems during a heat wave, such as senior citizens and people with pre-
existing disease, mental illness or disability, which prevents them from being able to care
for themselves. It is the responsibility of governments to ensure that community-level
interventions are taken up to help vulnerable groups. The advent of hot weather this year is
marked by temperatures rising between 1.6° Celsius and 5° C above normal in States such
as Rajasthan, Jammu and Kashmir, Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh and
Madhya Pradesh; other northern, central and eastern States also show a small increase from
March 1. Of course, Tamil Nadu, Puducherry and parts of Rayalaseema have begun the
season with a slight decrease in minimum temperatures, and will possibly have less
oppressive temperatures in coming weeks. For most other States, though, the summer of
2018 may pose a public health challenge, for which they must prepare with the experience
gained during the many previous heat waves. One scientific estimate of annual mortality
attributable to heat waves between 2010 and 2015 ranges between 1,300 and 2,500.

A spike in summer temperatures in India is not new, but some scientists contend that a
half-degree rise in average temperature in recent decades has resulted in a higher
probability of extreme heat waves and caused a lot of deaths. A heat event thus has serious
implications for public health: it can lead to fatal heat stroke in a small percentage of
people, while many more could encounter exhaustion, cramps and fainting. It is vital for
governments to ensure that all stakeholders, including the health-care system, are
prepared to deal with the phenomenon. The World Health Organisation recommends that
countries adopt heat-health warning systems, including daily alerts to ensure that people
are in a position to deal with adverse weather, starting with reduction of exposure. Water
stress is a common and often chronic feature in many States: arrangements should be made
to meet scarcity. There is some hope that the southwest monsoon this year will benefit
from an expected moderate La Niña condition in the equatorial Pacific, marked by cooler-
than-average sea surface temperature. Taking the long-term view, India has to pursue
mitigation of greenhouse gases vigorously, since there is a perceived link between increases
in average temperature caused by climate change and the frequency and intensity of
extreme weather events.
La Niña is a coupled ocean-atmosphere phenomenon that is the counterpart of El Niño as part of the broader El
Niño–Southern Oscillation climate pattern. The name La Niña originates from Spanish, meaning "the little girl",
analogous to El Niño meaning "the little boy".
During a period of La Niña, the sea surface temperature across the equatorial Eastern Central Pacific Ocean will be
lower than normal by 3 to 5 °C. In the United States, an appearance of La Niña persists for at least five months. It
has extensive effects on the weather in North America, even affecting the Atlantic and Pacific hurricane seasons.


The next best: on Mayawati's support to SP

MARCH 06, 2018 00:02 IST
UPDATED: MARCH 06, 2018 09:22 IST

Mayawati is testing BSP’s alliance options by supporting the SP in UP by-elections

I f politics is the art of the next best, then Bahujan Samaj Party chief Mayawati is slowly
becoming adept at it. She has been averse to pre-poll alliances, opting instead for post-
poll tie-ups with either the Bharatiya Janata Party or the Samajwadi Party, depending on
the nature of the electoral outcome. For her to now extend support to the SP in the by-
elections to the Phulpur and Gorakhpur Lok Sabha constituencies in Uttar Pradesh is
therefore a serious departure from practice. True, the support comes with riders. She
made it clear this does not amount to a formal alliance and is no pointer to a tie-up for the
2019 Lok Sabha election. But implicit in her declaration of support is a recognition that
the BJP is the party to beat, and that the BSP needs to back the strongest opposition party
in elections where it is not a contender. If the Lok Sabha election in 2014 and the
Assembly election in 2017 are any indication, the BSP has shrunk to its core, unable to win
support outside the Dalit caste of Jatavs. Earlier, with the backing of an assorted group of
Dalits, non-Yadav backward classes and minorities, the BSP was able to win a substantial
number of seats in the first-past-the-post system. Ms. Mayawati’s reasoning against
entering into any pre-poll electoral pact with other parties is not hard to understand: It is
not a desire to guard against ideological compromises or the arrogance of an undisputed
leader of a dominant party, but a tactic to force a multi-pronged contest and make the
most of a fragmented vote. This worked most spectacularly in the 2007 Assembly
election, when her outreach to social groups outside the BSP’s core support base,
especially the upper castes, combined well in a multi-cornered contest. Since then,
however, the BSP has been on the decline, failing to win even a single Lok Sabha
constituency in 2014, a loss of 20 seats in Uttar Pradesh.

The BSP’s shrinking vote-bank now leaves Ms. Mayawati with little option but to make
new alliances, and consolidate the anti-BJP vote. The same pragmatism that made the
most of a fragmented vote will likely suggest to her that she take the pre-poll alliance
route in the changed situation today. The SP has always been open to poll pacts,
positioning itself as the principal opponent of the BJP. If the BSP takes a step forward, the
SP will surely take two towards it. The Congress, with a geographically limited area of
influence in Uttar Pradesh, would gladly try and replicate the grand alliance of Bihar
2015. Ms. Mayawati might be testing the benefits of an alliance with the SP in Phulpur
and Gorakhpur. If the SP does well, the end-result might be more than an additional two
members in the 16th Lok Sabha. It could be the beginning of a political churn.

Sharp correction: on stock market volatility

MARCH 07, 2018 00:02 IST
UPDATED: MARCH 07, 2018 01:20 IST

Stocks may be set to experience more volatility than in the last few years

I nvestors who expected 2018 to be yet another blockbuster year for stocks may have to
temper their expectations. After a strong start to the year, since the beginning of
February, stock markets around the world have witnessed a sharp correction. The U.S.’s
decision to impose import tariffs on steel and aluminium was the latest development to
infuse a sense of uncertainty. As of Tuesday, the Sensex and Nifty are marginally down
since the beginning of the year. While the poor state of health of public sector banks has
added to the pain, market breadth suggests a more broad-based decline. Notably, this
correction comes after a record bull run that stocks enjoyed in 2017. While the Sensex
advanced about 28% in 2017, the Nifty climbed 30%. Judging by the initial trading
sessions of the Indian indices in March, markets look likely to keep investors on their
feet. After the sharp correction in February, many expected Indian stocks to rebound to
new highs, as in the case of previous corrections. But the Nifty and the Sensex, which
traded sideways until Monday after their initial fall in February, resumed their short-
term downtrend on Tuesday. Whether they will break lower to experience further
correction or consolidate for a while before moving upwards is anyone’s guess. But it is no
secret that investors have been willing to bid up the prices of Indian stocks far ahead of
their fundamentals. Despite the absence of any strong rebound in corporate earnings, an
underperforming economy and economic shocks such as demonetisation and the GST,
investors have found enough reason to stay optimistic about Indian stocks. It is only
natural that stock prices have begun to reflect, at least partially, the underlying risks.

Going forward, the biggest challenge to stock prices will be higher interest rates as central
bankers move to rein in inflation amid strengthening economic growth. The U.S. Federal
Reserve is expected to reduce the size of its balance sheet by $2 trillion in the next four
years as it moves to let interest rates rise. Bond yields have begun to reflect the prospect
of tighter liquidity. The U.S. 10-year Treasury has almost approached the 3% mark from
just around 2% in September last. Many noted bond investors have confidently
proclaimed the end of the multi-decade bull market in bonds, which began in the early
1980s. The Indian bond market too has witnessed a sharp increase in yields in the last few
months amid fears of faster inflation as well as the government’s worsening finances.
Compared to the taper tantrum of 2013, stocks have in recent times been relatively
subdued in reaction to the prospect of higher interest rates. But higher interest rates are
likely to eventually dampen stock prices. All this suggests that stocks may be set to
experience more volatility than in the last few years.
Euroscepticism means criticism of the European Union and European integration. It can also mean opposition to
and total rejection of the EU.

The main sources of Euroscepticism have been notions that integration weakens national sovereignty and the
nation state; that there is a democratic deficit in the European Union; that the EU is too bureaucratic; that it
encourages high levels of migration; or perceptions that it is a neoliberal organisation which benefits the business
elite at the expense of the working class. Euroscepticism is found in political parties across the political spectrum,
both left-wing and right-wing. Recently, the rise in populist right-wing parties in Europe is strongly linked to a rise
in Euroscepticism on the continent

Populist wave: on the Italian elections

MARCH 07, 2018 00:02 IST
UPDATED: MARCH 07, 2018 01:20 IST

As Italians reject the mainstream parties, EU integration could take a hit

A s the dust settles on the Italian parliamentary elections, it is unclear who the next
Prime Minister will be. But two things are clear. First, the election was a strong rejection of
the incumbent, centre-left Democratic Party (PD), which has managed just 19% of the vote.
Second, there is a strong anti-establishment undercurrent, with the largest vote share (32%)
to a single party going to the Five Star Movement (M5S). Given the recent changes in Italian
electoral law, which now combines proportional representation and the first-past-the-post
system, a party or coalition will need at least 40% of the vote to form the government. The
centre-right coalition, which includes the scandal-ridden former Prime Minister Silvio
Berlusconi’s Forza Italia, the anti-migrant and Eurosceptic Lega and the far right Brothers
of Italy, has secured 36%. What’s more, Lega, led by the rabble-rouser Matteo Salvini, has
won over 17% of the vote, elbowing Mr. Berlusconi out of the role of kingmaker and
reinforcing Italy’s move away from the centre. It appears that a growing but troubled
economy and the migrants crisis have left Italians disenchanted with business-as-usual
politics as well as the European Union, a pattern that has become all too familiar across
Europe over the last few years. Recovery from the 2008 financial crisis has been slow. Italy is
growing at 1.5%, below the Eurozone average, and unemployment is close to 11%; some 18
million Italians are said to be at risk of poverty. A feeling that the rest of the EU has left Italy
high and dry in tackling the migrants issue — over 600,000 have arrived in Italy since 2013
— has added to the sense of Euroscepticism.

Italy is going through a protracted period of political negotiations before a new

government can start taking shape in Rome. The M5S, which had initially said it would hold
a referendum on the euro, more recently toned down its stance but continues to seek
greater economic freedom from Brussels. It has taken a strong stance against migration and
says it wants to improve governance. Luigi Di Maio, the 31-year-old leader of the M5S, who
for long had said the party would go it alone, is now seeking partners to form a government.
This could, for instance, mean the M5S partnering with the PD or the Lega. Barring a shared
Euroscepticism, the M5S and the Lega mostly differ in their values. In addition to its
distrust of Europe, Lega has made no bones about its extreme and dangerous views,
specifically its anti-migrant and anti-Muslim stance. Mr. Salvini has claimed the moral
right to form a government given the centre-right coalition’s share of the vote. However,
politics makes for strange bedfellows, and an M5S-Lega government cannot be ruled out.
Such an outcome would, however, severely hamper French President Emmanuel Macron’s
and German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s plans for greater integration across the EU.

Rooftop energy: on boosting solar power

MARCH 08, 2018 00:02 IST
UPDATED: MARCH 08, 2018 00:39 IST

Surveys to map usable rooftops for solar power must be undertaken nationwide

B engaluru’s aerial mission to produce a three dimensional map of rooftop solar power
potential using Light Detection and Ranging (LIDAR) data can give this key source of power
a big boost. Similar mapping exercises have been carried out in several countries over the
past few years to assess how much of a city’s power needs can be met through rooftop solar
installations. A survey helps determine usable rooftops, separating them from green
spaces, and analyses the quality of the solar resource. With steady urbanisation, solar maps
of this kind will help electricity utilities come up with good business cases and investment
vehicles and give residents an opportunity to become partners in the effort. An initiative to
rapidly scale up rooftop solar installations is needed if the target of creating 40 GW of
capacity connected to the grid by 2022 is to be realised. Rooftop solar power growth has
demonstrated an overall positive trend, including in the fourth quarter of 2017 when
tenders for 220 MW represented a doubling of the achievement in the previous quarter. But
this will need to be scaled up massively to achieve the national target. Going forward,
domestic policy has to evaluate the impact of factors such as imposition of safeguard duty
and anti-dumping duty on imports, and levy of the goods and services tax on photovoltaic
modules. The industry is apprehensive that the shine could diminish for the sector during
the current year, unless policy is attuned to the overall objective of augmenting capacity.

Major solar projects that connect to the grid often face the challenge of land acquisition
and transmission connectivity. This has led to a delay in planned capacity coming on
stream during 2017: nearly 3,600 MW did not get commissioned during the last quarter, out
of a scheduled 5,100 MW. What this underscores is the importance of exploiting rooftop
solar, which represents only about 11% of the country’s 19,516 MW total installed capacity
at the start of 2018. The Centre should come up with incentives, given the enormous
investment potential waiting to be tapped and the real estate that can be rented. The
southern States and Rajasthan together host the bulk of national solar infrastructure on a
large scale. With some forward-looking policymaking, they can continue to lead by adding
rooftop capacity. India, which is a founder-member of the International Solar Alliance
launched in Paris during the climate change conference more than two years ago, must
strive to be a global leader. Initiatives such as the Bengaluru mapping project can
contribute to assessments of both real potential and risk. This is crucial for projects on a
large scale involving significant exposure for financial institutions, including banks. With
ongoing improvements to solar cell efficiency and battery technology, rooftops will only
get more attractive in the future.

Aerial mapping of Bengaluru’s solar energy potential takes


Shruthi H.M.
UPDATED: FEBRUARY 19, 2018 01:36 IST

Bescom commissions initiative to meet the target of generation of 1,000 MW of rooftop

solar energy by 2022 from Bengaluru alone

Laser mapping technology — where aerial light pulses are directed at the ground from an
aircraft — recently helped archaeologists discover an ancient Mayan city under the jungles in
Guatemala. In Bengaluru, the same technology — light detection and ranging (LiDAR) — is being
used, but for a different reason.

Over the fortnight, a helicopter armed with LiDAR system will fly across the city, mapping its
potential to generate rooftop solar energy.

The initiative, which is based on a 2016 agreement of Bangalore Electricity Supply Company
(Bescom) with the Centre for Study of Science, Technology and Policy (CSTEP) and Karnataka
Renewable Energy Development Ltd. (KREDL), finally took flight on Sunday at Jakkur

Bescom has commissioned the mapping in a bid to meet its target of generation of 1,000 MW of
rooftop solar energy by 2022 from Bengaluru alone.

The aircraft will cover an approximate area of 1,100 sq. km, generating high resolution images of
rooftops of buildings in the city. The mapping will be carried out by CSTEP and the data
generated will be submitted to the Energy Department.

The LiDAR technology will send pulsed laser light on to the rooftop of a building and translate
the reflected light into data points. Based on objects such as trees surrounding the rooftop,
shadow-free area available for solar power generation will be calculated and an estimate will be
arrived at as to the capacity of solar generation of each building in the city, said officials.

The data mapping will continue for a fortnight for about two hours every day.
Saptak Ghosh, research scientist, CSTEP, said they had to take permission from six government
departments and ensure that they were not capturing data of sensitive installations.

MoD to vet data

“Initially, we had proposed 1,100 sq. km to 1,200 sq. km. Around 100 sq. km of sensitive building
were blotted out by the Ministry of Defence. As soon as we collect the data, we will send it to the
MoD for vetting. We are likely to get back that vetted data in three months. Later, developing the
tool based on this data will take another two months,” he said.
A senior official from the KREDL has been designated as the security officer to oversee that the
aircraft flies only in permitted area.

What happens next

Once the data is collated and presented to the Energy Department, residents of the city will be
able to check the capacity of solar power generation of the rooftops of their respective buildings,
when they log in to the Bescom website to pay electricity bill. The system will send an OTP to the
user to cross verify whether the particular rooftop belongs to the property owner.
Bolster - support or strengthen.
Waded - walk with effort through water or another liquid or viscous substance.
intervene in (something) or attack (someone) vigorously or forcefully.
Incendiary - combustible, flammable.


Sri Lanka must act firmly on anti-Muslim violence

MARCH 08, 2018 00:02 IST
UPDATED: MARCH 08, 2018 00:41 IST

Sri Lanka’s government must decisively and impartially put down anti-Muslim

T he sudden spurt in violence targeting Muslims in Sri Lanka may only be limited in
comparison to previous racial attacks in the island, but it is serious enough to cast a dark
shadow on ethnic relations. That it has caused enough concern and disquiet to warrant the
imposition of a state of emergency across the island is a reflection of the prevailing
precarious situation. This is the first time since 2011 that Colombo has had to invoke
emergency provisions to bolster the security apparatus, indicating official concern that the
current violence could escalate. As an urgently needed security measure, this is a crucial
intervention as it enables the quick deployment of armed forces in areas of strife, and
strengthens the hand of the law and order machinery. The reverberations of early incidents
that took place in Kandy district are still being felt. The first spark that ignited the violence
would have gone down as just an instance of road rage, as a Sinhalese truck driver was
beaten to death by a group of Muslims for blocking their way. But this was followed by
attacks on Muslim houses, business establishments and mosques. There was one more
death, that of a Muslim man, whose burnt body was found in a house. Hardline Sinhala
groups then waded in with rumour and inflammatory social media posts, adding to the
incendiary mood.

Muslims, the third largest ethnic constituent in Sri Lanka, were not a party to the
protracted armed conflict that ended in 2009. However, they were also victims then,
suffering massacres and displacement at the hands of the Tamil militants. In the manner of
their political mobilisation, they have remained an integral part of the Sri Lankan
mainstream. In recent years, Muslims have been targeted by extreme right-wing groups,
which are presumably looking for new enemies after the fall of the LTTE. The violence has
sometimes been attributed to Sinhala majoritarian groups such as the Bodu Bala Sena.
More recently, there was hate-mongering against the community in the backdrop of some
Rohingya refugees seeking shelter in Sri Lanka. Post-war triumphalism had proved to be
the undoing of the Mahinda Rajapaksa regime, and it is the duty of the present rulers to
avoid a relapse into ethnic strife. The present regime does not carry an anti-minority tag,
but it has still attracted criticism for allowing an atmosphere of impunity to prevail over
the last few days. It should strive to avoid the impression that hardliners in the majority
community can get away with anti-minority intimidation and violence. President
Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe should redouble efforts to
ensure that the authorities on the ground act with decisiveness and impartiality.
Fraught - filled with, causing or affected by anxiety or stress.


Chance for peace: on US and North Korea's relations

MARCH 09, 2018 00:15 IST
UPDATED: MARCH 08, 2018 23:56 IST

The U.S. should grab North Korea’s offer of talks, and enable an environment of

T he visit by a South Korean delegation to Pyongyang and the subsequent North

Korean offer to hold talks with the U.S. mark perhaps the most serious attempt in a
decade to reduce tensions in the peninsula. South Korean officials who met the North’s
leader, Kim Jong-un, said Pyongyang is willing to denuclearise if the military threat to the
North is eliminated and its security guaranteed. The situation has been fraught since the
election of Donald Trump as U.S. President, especially after he threatened the North with
“fire and fury”. As Pyongyang continued its weapons programme, Washington kept up
economic pressure with biting new sanctions. But even in the face of tensions and
repeated war rhetoric from both North Korea and the U.S., South Korean President Moon
Jae-in kept open the diplomatic channels after assuming office last summer. This
strategy appears to have yielded the current breakthrough. The North first sent Kim Yo-
jong, Mr. Kim’s influential sister, to the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics in
South Korea last month, which was followed by the meeting between the South Korean
officials and Mr. Kim. Both Koreas have now agreed to hold a summit between Mr. Kim
and Mr. Moon, while the North has promised to suspend nuclear and ballistic missile
tests if talks with the U.S. are initiated.

This is a marked shift from the aggressive foreign policy that Mr. Kim has pursued since
he succeeded his father in 2011. It also signals that his militaristic foreign policy is linked
to perceptions about the survival of his regime, something for which he may be willing to
reach a diplomatic settlement with the U.S. Raising hopes further, Mr. Trump has
responded cautiously, calling the diplomatic outreach “a serious process… by all parties
concerned”. Still, the path ahead will not be smooth, given the lack of trust between the
U.S. and North Korea and the bitter experience of the past engagement. Even days after
South Korea issued a statement about the North’s willingness to discuss denuclearisation
and normalisation of ties with the U.S., Pyongyang is yet to confirm it. It could be waiting
for a more concrete response from the U.S. Meanwhile, for Mr. Trump, who favours a
muscular foreign policy and who even attacked his Secretary of State Rex Tillerson for
pursuing talks with North Korea, Pyongyang’s offer poses both an opportunity and a
challenge. He can embrace both if he is serious about defusing the nuclear tensions in the
Korean peninsula. If a clear and realistic plan for negotiation comes directly from
Pyongyang, the U.S. should enable a conducive environment for such talks by delaying
the next military exercises with South Korea, scheduled to take place in April.

Friends with benefits: on AP's 'special category' status

MARCH 09, 2018 00:15 IST
UPDATED: MARCH 09, 2018 00:00 IST

Special status for A.P. is important, but Mr. Naidu is also looking at the next election

I n politics, there is nothing such as friendship without benefits. Ever since it became
clear that the Centre was unable to grant Andhra Pradesh “special category” status, the
Telugu Desam Party was under pressure to break off ties with the Bharatiya Janata Party
and make a public show of its protest. With the main opposition in the State, the YSR
Congress Party, taking a belligerent stance on the issue, the TDP could not afford to give the
impression that it continued to be a part of the government at the Centre without being
able to wrest benefits for A.P. But even as he withdrew his ministers from the Central
government, Chief Minister N. Chandrababu Naidu stopped short of leading his party out
of the National Democratic Alliance headed by the BJP. The exit, when it happens, will be
after another display of disaffection with the Centre’s attitude towards A.P. Clearly, the TDP
is keen to demonstrate that it did everything possible in the interest of this fledgling State
before walking out of the NDA. Although Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley clarified that
it was no longer possible to confer “special category” status on States after the Centre
accepted the recommendation of the 14th Finance Commission, Mr. Naidu appears to
blame the Centre’s reluctance on its majority in the Lok Sabha and the resulting lack of
dependence on allied parties. In short, in the eyes of the TDP, the denial of special status is a
political decision, deserving of a political response. However, it is debatable whether A.P.
qualifies for special status, which was earmarked for States on the basis of laid-down
criteria such as difficult terrain, low population, strategic location, economic backwardness
and non-viable finances.

While Mr. Jaitley promised to give A.P. the monetary equivalent of the special status, this
was not good enough for the TDP, which wanted it institutionally recognised. Besides
procedural hurdles, the Centre feared this would lead to other States such as Bihar making
similar demands. But the TDP and Mr. Naidu apparently felt that the assurance of granting
the monetary equivalent was not an enduring or long-term solution. The signs of strain
had started becoming apparent soon after the Union Budget, which failed to meet A.P.’s
expectations, and which led Mr. Naidu to start signalling that he was distancing himself
from the BJP. There are political compulsions for making such a move as well, with
simultaneous elections to the Lok Sabha and the State Assembly only a year away. Flagging
a strong commitment to the State may be just the right signal to neutralise the TDP’s main
rival, the YSR Congress. It may be enough for Mr. Naidu to retain Andhra Pradesh and win
enough Lok Sabha seats to be an influential player in the new political order at the Centre,
whatever the shape it takes.
Grapple - to engage in a struggle or close encounter


Death with dignity: on SC's verdict on euthanasia and

living wills
MARCH 10, 2018 00:02 IST
UPDATED: MARCH 10, 2018 00:44 IST

The court has laid down a much-needed legal framework for enforcing living wills

T he core philosophy underlying the Supreme Court’s verdict allowing passive

euthanasia and giving legal status to ‘advance directives’ is that the right to a dignified life
extends up to the point of having a dignified death. In four concurring opinions, the five-
member Constitution Bench grappled with a question that involved, in the words of Justice
D.Y. Chandrachud, “finding substance and balance in the relationship between life, morality
and the experience of dying”. The outcome of the exercise is a progressive and humane
verdict that lays down a broad legal framework for protecting the dignity of a terminally ill
patient or one in a persistent vegetative state (PVS) with no hope of cure or recovery. For, in
such circumstances, “accelerating the process of death for reducing the period of suffering
constitutes a right to live with dignity”. The core message is that all adults with the capacity
to give consent “have the right of self determination and autonomy”, and the right to refuse
medical treatment is also encompassed in it. Passive euthanasia was recognised by a two-
judge Bench in Aruna Shanbaug in 2011; now the Constitution Bench has expanded the
jurisprudence on the subject by adding to it the principle of a ‘living will’, or an advance
directive, a practice whereby a person, while in a competent state of mind, leaves written
instructions on the sort of medical treatment that may or may not be administered in the
event of her reaching a stage of terminal illness.
Passive euthanasia essentially involves withdrawal of life support or discontinuation of life-
preserving medical treatment so that a person with a terminal illness is allowed to die in the
natural course. The court’s reasoning is unexceptionable when it says burdening a dying
patient with life-prolonging treatment and equipment merely because medical technology
has advanced would be destructive of her dignity. In such a situation, “individual interest
has to be given priority over the state interest”. The court has invoked its inherent power
under Article 142 of the Constitution to grant legal status to advance directives, and its
directives will hold good until Parliament enacts legislation on the matter. The government
submitted that it was in the process of introducing a law to regulate passive euthanasia, but
opposed the concept of advance directive on the ground that it was liable to be misused. The
stringent conditions imposed by the court regarding advance directives are intended to
serve as a set of robust safeguards and allay any apprehensions about misuse. The court is
justified in concluding that advance directives will strengthen the will of the treating
doctors by assuring them that they are acting lawfully in respecting the patient’s wishes. An
advance directive, after all, only reflects the patient’s autonomy and does not amount to a
recognition of a wish to die.
Buttress - increase the strength of or justification for; reinforce.


Trade goes on: on U.S and free trade

MARCH 10, 2018 00:02 IST
UPDATED: MARCH 10, 2018 00:46 IST

The revival of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, sans U.S., must buttress the free trade

T he United States under Donald Trump may not be a huge fan of free trade across
borders, but that’s not stopping other countries from embracing it. On Thursday, 11 Asia-
Pacific countries, including Japan, Australia and Canada, signed the Comprehensive and
Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership in Chile. The CPTPP is, in effect, the
original Trans-Pacific Partnership struck during the Barack Obama presidency minus the
U.S. On the campaign trail, Mr. Trump had promised to pull the U.S. out of the TPP, and went
on to do precisely that within weeks of assuming office. Interestingly, the CPTPP comes soon
after the U.S. had made clear its plan to impose tariffs on the import of aluminium and steel
in an attempt to protect domestic manufacturers. The countries signing the agreement,
which account for more than 13% of the world economy, have agreed to bring down tariffs
on cross-border trade by as much as 98% after domestic ratification. More countries are
expected to sign the CPTPP in the future, and there is hope that a post-Trump U.S. may join
the bloc. But even in the absence of the world’s largest economy, countries that are currently
part of the deal will only gain from any reduction in the costs imposed on trade. This will
leave the world, which has largely been moving towards increasing free trade even as the
U.S. has turned inwards, better off than without the deal.

The CPTPP, as it looks to expand influence by adding other countries
Pacific Ocean’s
11: on TPP into its fold, will need to address other problems as well. One of the
without U.S.
points of criticism of the TPP, even in its original form as a 12-member
agreement, was the alleged influence of special interests in dictating
its broad framework. Mr. Trump, in fact, smartly capitalised on these
sentiments to attack and then pull out of the agreement last year. The
TPP text, which has in large part been incorporated into the new deal,
had also been flayed for mandating labour and other regulations that
increase the bureaucratic burden on businesses. Many have cited the size of the agreement,
which runs into several chapters and thousands of pages, to contend that the benefits from
tariff reductions may be cancelled out by the massive increase in regulatory requirements.
While there may be no hard and fast rule to gauge the net benefit of the agreement,
addressing these concerns will only strengthen the chances of more countries joining it. A
simpler trade agreement can also help the cause of transparency and lower the chances of
lobbying by special interests in the future. Last but not least, amid palpable fears of a global
trade war, the survival of a free trade agreement despite the sudden pullout of the U.S. offers
some respite to the supporters of free trade.
Quietus - something that has a calming or soothing effect.
Ruse - An action intended to deceive someone; a trick.
Scuttle - deliberately cause (a scheme) to fail.
Volition - the faculty or power of using one's will.


A welcome quietus: on Hadiya case verdict

MARCH 12, 2018 00:02 IST
UPDATED: MARCH 12, 2018 00:05 IST

The Supreme Court finally ends unjustified curbs on Hadiya’s personal freedom

H adiya has at last won her freedom. The curious aspect of her case is that it took such
a long time for the courts to acknowledge that the 25-year-old woman from Kerala enjoys
as much freedom of choice in her marriage as in her religious belief. The Kerala High
Court had caused quite a muddle when it annulled her marriage solely on the suspicion
that it was a ruse to scuttle habeas corpus proceedings before it. On her father’s complaint
that she had been indoctrinated and brainwashed into embracing Islam, and his fear that
she was a victim of a movement to convert Hindu women and send them to overseas
battle zones, the high court ordered her confinement in her parents’ home. The Supreme
Court’s categorical ruling that the high court was wrong in invalidating a marriage under
its writ jurisdiction constitutes a welcome end to the unjustified curtailment of her
freedom of movement and her life choices. The verdict, for which detailed reasons are yet
to be pronounced, restores the liberty of Ms. Hadiya, who chose to convert to Islam more
than a year ago and later married a Muslim man. Last November, the apex court had freed
her from her parents’ custody and allowed her to complete her internship as part of a
homoeopathy course she had taken up in Tamil Nadu. However, even this was somewhat
unsatisfactory, as it appeared to be a compromise between being in parental custody and
being allowed to live with her husband.

It is possible that her father, K.M. Asokan, was gripped by fear as her conversion came
amid reports of radical groups recruiting young people on behalf of the Islamic State. The
high court did not question her conversion, but suspected the veracity of her claim that
she was married, as it happened in a day’s break between hearings. However, these facts
were not enough for the court to annul the marriage and label it a “sham”. The court made
odd observations on how a woman’s marriage requires the involvement of her parents
and that Ms. Hadiya was “at a vulnerable age”. Even in the Supreme Court, Ms. Hadiya
could explain to the judges that she stood by her marriage to Shafin Jahan only after other
parties had advanced arguments on “indoctrination” and “conspiracy” and the National
Investigation Agency had its say. Finally, the court has now given primacy to her view. The
implications of her ordeal are disquieting: it is not difficult in this country to question
the life choices of an adult woman by casting doubts on her volition and personal
autonomy, and her freedom to choose her way of life can sometimes be judicially
curtailed. While a lawful investigation into organised recruitment by radical groups must
not be impeded, courts should strive even harder to protect personal freedoms without
being swayed by mere suspicion.
Besieged - surround (a place) with armed forces in order to capture it or force its surrender.
Eerie - strange and frightening.


Saving Ghouta
MARCH 12, 2018 00:02 IST
UPDATED: MARCH 11, 2018 23:57 IST

Given the deal to evacuate one militant group, Syria should reach out to the rest

T he agreement reached between armed groups in Eastern Ghouta and a UN

delegation to evacuate some militants from the besieged enclave is the first major
concession the rebels have made since Syrian government attacks began a month ago.
Under the deal, the Jaish al-Islam, the main rebel group, will evacuate militants linked to
the Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), formerly an al-Qaeda front, from Ghouta on the outskirts
of Damascus. HTS militants will go to Idlib, a province in northwestern Syria run by the
rebels, mainly the HTS. Over the past month, the rebels had refused to strike any deal
with the regime even after repeated bombardment. At least 1,000 people have been killed
in one month, with the UN warning of an “apocalypse” in Syria. The regime’s argument
was that it was seeking to liberate Eastern Ghouta from terrorist occupation. But about
400,000 people are stuck in the enclave; some reports say the rebels are using them as
human shields. But the regime and its Russian backers are paying little attention to
human suffering. Last month, the UN Security Council unanimously passed a resolution
calling for a ceasefire in Eastern Ghouta. Thereafter, the Syrian government eased the
siege of the city, allowing aid groups to supply assistance. But the ceasefire is yet to take
effect. The Russians, who voted for the resolution at the Security Council, continued to
justify attacks by citing the presence of the HTS, which is linked to an internationally
designated terrorist organisation.
With HTS fighters now being evacuated, it is an opportunity for Russia and the Syrian
regime to cease hostilities and engage with the other armed groups, including Jaish and
Faylaq al-Rahman, an affiliate of the Free Syrian Army. Both the rebels and the
government can learn from the battle for eastern Aleppo, which regime forces captured
in late 2016. After the rebels ran out of all options in the face of continued Syrian/Russian
assaults, both from land and air, they finally decided to leave the city under Turkish
mediation, handing it over to government forces. The battle for Eastern Ghouta bears an
eerie similarity to that of eastern Aleppo. In Ghouta, the rebels do not have any
meaningful support coming from outside that could allow them to resist regime forces.
What they do now to deter regime advances is to shell the government-controlled parts of
Damascus and its suburbs, killing more civilians and giving further reason for the regime
to justify its military operations. This will only prolong the conflict, endangering civilians
on both sides. Given the Aleppo example and the reality on the ground in Eastern Ghouta,
the sooner the government forces and the armed gangs reach an agreement for
evacuation, the better it will be for the hundreds of thousands of people in the enclave.

Not by fear alone: on GST e-way billing

MARCH 13, 2018 00:02 IST
UPDATED: MARCH 13, 2018 00:13 IST

With the GST e-way billing set for April 1, firm timelines and simplification will be

T he GST (goods and services tax) Council chaired by Finance Minister Arun Jaitley has
decided to stick to the prescriptions of the group of ministers on the rollout of the e-way
bills system. So, starting April 1, all inter-State movement of goods above the value of
₹50,000 will require the generation of an e-way bill to help track their movement. The
original rollout plan for February 1 had to be aborted as the IT system couldn’t handle the
lakhs of e-way bills being generated by consignors and transporters. As proposed by the
ministerial group, the e-way bill system for tracking intra-State movement will be
launched in a phased manner, with all States to be on board by June 1. From April 1
onwards, every week a few States will start the system for internal trade. While such an
approach may give the government an opportunity to fix the chinks in the system, this is a
compliance nightmare in the making for taxpayers with operations in multiple locations.
The government is keen to use the system to foil tax evasion or non-filing of returns. The
Central Board of Excise and Customs, together with the GST Network, has begun deploying
data analytics on the vast repository of information collected from taxpayers since July.
Action is likely to begin soon on taxpayers, based on variances and data gaps that have been
found in returns.
While industry remains edgy about the capacity of the IT system to cope with e-way bills
from April 1, new rules and forms for the generation of these transit challans have been
issued. Tax experts have voiced concern about some of these rules, including one that
empowers commissioners to notify those officers who can intercept any mode of
conveyance to carry out physical verification of e-way bills while goods are in transit, akin
to the old physical checkpost system. What is most disappointing for business, however, is
the failure of the GST Council to finalise a simplified tax form for assessees. Infosys co-
founder Nandan Nilekani has also made a pitch to help formulate a simpler return that
involves just one monthly filing. Mr. Jaitley has said that there is scope for further
simplification in the options available with the Council without rendering such a form
‘evasion-prone’. For now, taxpayers will have to stick to the current compliance system till
June 2018. Similarly, the plan to pay GST under the reverse charge mechanism has been
deferred till the end of June, to avoid ‘inconvenience’ to trade and industry. The e-wallet
scheme proposed for exporters whose cash flows have been affected by delays in refunds on
GST paid on domestic inputs has been deferred till October 1. For GST to become truly
simple for taxpayers, certainty of timelines is as critical as the fear of the taxman.
What is meant by Reverse Charge Mechanism in

Under Normal Scenario, tax is paid by a supplier who makes supply of goods or services or both. However, under
Reverse Charge Mechanism, liability to pay tax would not be on the supplier of goods or services or both but on
the recipient of such goods or services or both.

Why there is a need to have such a mechanism wherein a recipient is liable to pay the
tax instead of the supplier of goods or services?
Some of the reasons for levy of tax under reverse charge mechanism wherein the person receiving the goods or
services is liable to pay tax are as follows:

a) Supplier of the goods or services is unregistered and he makes supply of goods or services to a
registered person:

Multi point tax system helps creating a trail of the transaction from the start of the supply chain to the end point
of supply chain. However, if an unregistered person supplies goods or services or both to a registered person, he
breaks the trail of supply chain as he would not be filing any return declaring the details of the person from whom
he has received goods or services or both and person to whom he has supplied goods or services.

Therefore, the law requires the registered person to pay tax on such supply received from unregistered person to
pay tax on such supply received from unregistered person and avail the credit of the taxes paid, had he received
the goods or services from a registered person.

b) Supplier of the goods or services or both located in non-taxable territory:

GST is destination based taxation. Therefore, if the supplier is located in a non-taxable territory and cannot collect
and deposit taxes from the recipient then the recipient himself is made liable to deposit tax under reverse charge

This helps similar level of taxes on goods or services whether they are imported from outside the taxable territory
or produced/ rendered within the taxable territory.

Therefore, there is no benefit on the goods or services imported from outside the taxable territory on account of
lower rate of taxes.

c) Tax is levied under Reverse Charge Mechanism on an unorganized sector:

Sometimes, taxes are levied on reverse charge basis on certain goods or services or both wherein many people fall
under the unorganized sector. The cost of administering and collecting tax from such local or unorganized sector
would be too high.

Sometimes, it could also be that the persons working in the sector might be many but their aggregate turnover is
less. Under these circumstances it would not be possible for each of them to be registered under the law as the
majority here would be below the threshold limit of aggregate turnover.

Therefore, in such cases, if the goods or service supplied by persons in an unorganized sector happens to be a B2B
Supply, then law might provide levy of tax on reverse charge basis on the business which is receiving goods or
services or both from such source.
d) Indirect Levy of tax on a sector which is generally exempt from tax:
Legislature may exempt specific goods or services or both from levy of the tax but indirectly tax is levied on that
sector under reverse charge mechanism whereby the recipient of such goods or services or both has to deposit tax.

Who are the persons who would be liable to pay tax under the Reverse Charge

Person would be liable to pay tax under reverse charge under two categories:

a) Category of suppliers of goods or service or both notified by the Government:

Government may, on the recommendation of the Council, would notify categories of supplies of
goods or services or both on which tax would be payable on reverse charge basis.

The Liability to pay tax on the goods or services notified under the reverse charge mechanism would
be on the recipient of goods or services or both and he would be treated as the person liable to pay
tax on such goods or services or both. Supplier of goods or services or both would not be the person
liable to pay tax on such supplies.

b) Supply of Taxable Goods or Service or both by an Unregistered person to a

registered person:

Wherein any supply of goods or services or both is made by a supplier who is not registered to a
registered person, then tax in respect of such supply of taxable goods or services or both shall be
paid by the registered person on reverse charge basis.

That such registered person shall be treated as the person liable for paying tax in relation to the
supply of such goods or services or both.

Registered person would now be bound to receive supply of taxable goods or services or both from a
registered supplier only and in case he receives taxable supply of goods or services from an
unregistered supplier, then in all such cases registered person would be liable to pay tax on reverse
charge basis.

This would be an onerous task upon the registered person to monitor that all taxable supplies of
goods or services or both are received from registered persons only.

Case Study:

A purchase goods from B for Rs.10,000. A is registered under GST whereas B is an unregistered
person in GST. Had B been a registered supplier, such supplies would have been taxable at the rate
of 18% and B would have collected tax of Rs.1800 on such supplies.

As in the given case, B is an unregistered supplier and cannot collect any tax, A would be required to
pay taxes to the Government of Rs.1800 & claim credit of the same against his output liability.

Indo-French harmony: on President Macron's visit to India

MARCH 13, 2018 00:02 IST
UPDATED: MARCH 13, 2018 00:13 IST

PM Modi and President Macron deepen ties to work around global uncertainties

M uch like the pioneering India-France strategic partnership of 1998, the agreements signed during
President Emmanuel Macron’s visit are set to strengthen bilateral cooperation at a time of global flux. The
Joint Vision Statement on the Indian Ocean Region is clearly aimed at countering China’s growing presence
in the region. And the International Solar Alliance, recommitment to starting the Jaitapur nuclear power
plant, and joint ventures on climate change cooperation are reactions to the U.S. abdicating its role by
announcing its pullout from the Paris accord. The “reciprocal logistics support” agreement, which Prime
Minister Narendra Modi called a “golden step” in defence cooperation, is a signal to Russia and to the U.S.-
led alliance that partnered in the “Quadrilateral”, that both New Delhi and Paris feel the need to diversify
strategic postures beyond their current choices. Finally, by bringing 61 countries into the ISA, India and
France are proposing an alternative leadership model for the less developed world, challenging the
geopolitical power structure configured around fossil-fuel energy resources. Notably, Mr. Modi and Mr.
Macron declared they would ensure cheaper solar energy and increase avenues for financing, something
that has created heat at the WTO. The daunting task ahead is made clear by Mr. Macron’s assertion that $1
trillion is needed to reach the ISA goals by 2030: India and France have so far committed $1.4 billion and
$1.3 billion, respectively.
There are other contradictions that New Delhi and Paris must contend with. For example, India’s solar
power tariffs stand at about ₹2.40 a unit and there is little scope to make the domestic industry profitable,
as Mr. Modi wants, unless the cost of solar panels and other components are brought down drastically. At
the same time, more thermal power, for which tariffs are higher but which is less fickle than solar or wind
power, is being produced than the demand. France’s nuclear power story is a success, but negotiations
between EDF and NPCIL for the Jaitapur plant, billed as the world’s biggest, have made very slow progress.
While the two countries have committed to start construction by end-2018, they have missed deadlines
multiple times. Bilateral cooperation in the Indian Ocean Region too is more symbolic than substantive
today, and much will depend on how closely the Indian and French navies and intelligence work together in
the future. The presumed joint message to Beijing may also be blurred by Mr. Macron’s parallel
commitment to help “lead” the Belt and Road Initiative with China. As two pluralistic democracies with a
firm belief in a multipolar world order and in the future of Eurasia, India and France have numerous
strategic convergences. But common ambitions to cooperate on the world stage, as projected by Mr. Macron
and Mr. Modi, must be grounded in some hard realities as well.

India, France join hands for Indian Ocean security

NEW DELHI , MARCH 10, 2018 23:56 IST
UPDATED: MARCH 12, 2018 09:23 IST

Fresh logistical agreement to allow closer defence cooperation

India and France on Saturday joined hands in ensuring freedom of navigation in the Indo-
Pacific region. Both sides also announced a new phase of cooperation in space security
focussed on the maritime domain and a fresh logistics agreement that will allow their defence
forces to closely cooperate on mutually agreed operations.
“Whether it is the environment, or maritime security, or marine resources, or the freedom of
navigation and over flight, we are committed to strengthening our cooperation in all these
areas. And therefore, today, we are releasing a Joint Strategic Vision for our cooperation in the
Indian Ocean area,” said Prime Minister Narendra Modi, announcing the initiative that will
open up vast French maritime domain in the Indian Ocean region to India.

Common concerns
‘The Joint Strategic Vision of India-France Cooperation in the Indian Ocean Region’ stated that
India and France share common concerns on freedom of navigation in the region and will
tackle challenges to over-flight and threat of weapons of mass destruction. The agreement has
a vast scope stretching from “countering maritime terrorism and piracy” to “building
maritime domain awareness” said a joint statement issued at the end of the official talks. The
statement also said it would support “greater coordination in regional/international fora in
the region.”
This is the second major maritime arrangement that India has taken up in the last six months
following the Quadrilateral discussion with Australia, Japan and the US in October 2017.
Presenting the French perspective on maritime and military cooperation, President
Emmanuel Macron said, “The Pacific and the Indian Oceans cannot become zones for
hegemonic power and we are, therefore, building a strategic partnership. The same is true for
our defence cooperation signed a while ago.”
The logistics support agreement is likely to “extend” both Indian and French ability to respond
to common challenges. The agreement “seeks to extend logistical support on reciprocal access
to respective facilities for Indian and French armed forces,” said the statement.

Sources indicate that while reviewing the ongoing military contracts and discussing the
commissioning of INS Kalvari, the first Scorpene submarine made in India, Mr. Macron
suggested extending the bilateral contract for the supply of more of these conventional
The two sides also agreed on the need for early conclusion of the ongoing discussions between
DRDO and French firm Safran for combat engines for the indigenous Tejas fighters. They
presently fly on GE manufactured American engines. “If the M88 engines of Safran are to be
produced in India with full ToT (transfer of technology) that might solve a lot of our concerns
regarding the Tejas programme,” the military scientist pointed out.
Both sides also announced a vision document on cooperation on a number of space-research
related issues, including space security. The space agreement is designed to support joint
maritime operations as it will help in maritime surveillance for the Indian Ocean region. The
visiting French leader also presided over the signing of an important agreement that will
allow mutual recognition of academic qualifications.
The logistics support agreement is likely to ‘extend’ both Indian and French ability to respond
to common challenges. The agreement “seeks to extend logistical support on reciprocal access
to respective facilities for Indian and French armed forces,” said the Joint Statement.

Exchange of information
Pointing out the political acceptability of France across Indian political spectrum and the
historic role it has played in providing sensitive technologies for both space and military
programmes, a senior military scientist said, “these agreements will bring back the
momentum.” The two sides also signed a new protocol for the exchange of classified
information between the two sides.
Sources indicate that while reviewing the ongoing military contracts and discussing the
commissioning of INS Kalvari, the fist Scorpene submarine made in India, the French
President suggested extending the bilateral contract for the supply of more of these
conventional submarines.
The two sides also agreed on the need for early conclusion of the ongoing discussions between
DRDO and French firm Safran for combat engines for the indigenous Tejas fighters. They
presently fly on GE manufactured American engines. “If the M88 engines of Safran are to be
produced in India with full ToT (transfer of technology) that might solve a lot of our concerns
regarding the Tejas programme,” the military scientist pointed out.
Both sides also announced a vision document on cooperation on a number of space-research
related issues, including space security. The space agreement is designed to support joint
maritime operations as it will help in maritime surveillance for the Indian Ocean region. The
visiting French leader also presided over the signing of an important agreement that will
allow mutual recognition of academic qualifications.
 Theni forest fire: a trek that ended in tragedy

Fire in the woods: on Theni forest fire tragedy

MARCH 14, 2018 00:02 IST
UPDATED: MARCH 14, 2018 00:13 IST

The Theni tragedy begs an inquiry by the Tamil Nadu government into warning systems

T he forest fire in Tamil Nadu’s Theni hills that claimed the lives of 11 trekkers and severely injured
many others is a heart-rending tragedy, with many of them being women who were out to celebrate
International Women’s Day. Questions are naturally being asked whether the Forest Department failed to
stop treks during the February-June fire season, and whether the response to the early distress alerts was
slow. It appears that the difficult terrain gave many of those caught in the fire line little chance, and
proved challenging for the State’s rescue operation launched in coordination with the Central
government. The residents of the hills played a commendable role in aiding the effort. Yet, several
families are left scarred as they try to cope with the loss of loved ones. The tragedy has highlighted the
lack of emphasis on safety in the way such events are organised. Indeed, if there is any lesson that can be
learnt from the episode, it is that such adventures should place safety above everything else, and that the
government has a key role to play in evolving the protocols. In a country with rich landscapes and forests,
the wish to briefly leave the urban life behind and take to the outdoors is but natural. .

But as the trek from Kurangani to Kolukkumalai shows, there are hazards. The risk of fire is particularly
important, given that 55% of forest cover in India is assessed by the Indian Space Research Organisation
as being vulnerable. With constant improvements to remote sensing capabilities, and through
partnerships with organisations such as the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the
National Remote Sensing Centre has been issuing day and night fire alerts to forest departments. This
should have alerted the Forest Department to stop trekking tours, and the State government’s inquiry
into the Theni tragedy should reveal whether it was part of the alerts system, and whether they were
actually issued. The probe should also determine whether the fires were triggered by burning of grass on
the lower slopes. Ideally, the database of fires, including the GIS information, should be made available
on the Internet. Also, organisers need to be trained in fire escape manoeuvres, and carry the right
equipment, including wireless communication sets. Care must be taken to see that small children are not
part of such groups. Raising safety standards in tourism and creating safe experiences is the imperative,
as more young Indians will continue to seek adventure. The importance of raising the capabilities of
district hospitals has also been underscored by the disaster.
Myriad - countless or extremely great in number.
Unflustered - countless or extremely great in number.
Caveat - a warning or proviso of specific stipulations, conditions, or limitations
2006 Forest Rights Acts - see Annexure

Maharashtra kisan rally: A model protest

MARCH 14, 2018 00:02 IST
UPDATED: MARCH 14, 2018 00:15 IST

Maharashtra’s farmers win hearts and minds; their issues must be addressed everywhere

T he gruelling six-day march of nearly 200 km from Nashik to Mumbai by thousands of farmers, with
the aim to gherao the Maharashtra Assembly and sensitise the government to their problems, was
remarkable. The manner in which they conducted themselves — without disrupting the lives of other
citizens and refraining from aggressive sloganeering — is not how India’s myriad protesters typically
behave. And, while urban India usually has little patience for agrarian problems, many Mumbaikars not
only backed the stir but also pitched in to help with food, water, medical aid, and even footwear. While
Opposition parties as well as BJP ally Shiv Sena backed the farmers and tribals in an attempt to isolate
Devendra Fadnavis’s administration, he managed to emerge unflustered and deal with the issue effectively.
The farmers were persuaded to complete the final leg of the march early on Monday to avoid
inconveniencing commuters, and halt peacefully 2 km from the Assembly so that government emissaries
could negotiate with their representatives. By evening, ‘deeply humbled’ by the farmers’ reasonable
approach, Mr. Fadnavis said he respected them and had no problem in accepting most of their demands,
leading the farmers to end the stir and board special trains to go back home. While this should perhaps serve
as a model for protesters and administrators across India, there is also a lesson to be learnt about how to
deal with unrest of this nature, which other States such as Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan have had to
contend with.

A six-month deadline has been set for changes that will take some doing, with a written assurance that
some of the demands will be pushed through immediately. A large number of the marchers were tribals
with no land titles; therefore, the promise that the 2006 Forest Rights Act will be implemented in letter and
spirit is welcome. The demand that caveats to the State’s loan waiver scheme be dropped so that genuine
small farmers are not excluded is also being considered. The efficacy of loan waivers in alleviating farm
distress is limited at best. A few droughts or disruptions later, another waiver would be called for if no
institutional reforms are undertaken to free constricted agricultural markets. However, having announced
a waiver scheme, the State should ensure that small farmers don’t get left out. Maharashtra’s farm sector
shrunk by over 8% in 2017-18, but the distress goes beyond its borders and demands for raising the
minimum support price in line with the M.S. Swaminathan Commission report are spreading, with
Haryana farmers picking up the baton on Tuesday. The BJP-led government at the Centre, which has been
promising doubling of farm incomes and higher prices, and is to seek re-election a year from now, would do
well to take note too. The Gujarat election, which was marked by sharply different voting patterns in urban
and rural areas, was a rude reminder of how agrarian distress can impact the election result.
2006 Forest Rights Act
Insights into Editorial: The Unmaking of the Forest
Rights Act

Insights into Editorial: The Unmaking of the Forest Rights Act


Aimed at protecting the rights of forest dwelling tribal communities the Scheduled Tribes
and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 promised
much. However, over the years its implementation has been tardy and there have been
concerted efforts to dilute it.

About Forest Rights Act (FRA):

The legislation, which was passed in December 2006, concerns the rights of forest-dwelling
communities to land and other resources, denied to them over decades as a result of the
continuance of colonial forest laws in India.

The Act grants legal recognition to the rights of traditional forest dwelling
communities, partially correcting the injustice caused by the forest laws.

Rights under the Act:

Title rights –e. ownership to land that is being farmed by tribals or forest dwellers
subject to a maximum of 4 hectares; ownership is only for land that is actually being
cultivated by the concerned family, meaning that no new lands are granted.
Use rights – to minor forest produce (also including ownership), to grazing areas, to
pastoralist routes, etc.
Relief and development rights – to rehabilitation in case of illegal eviction or forced
displacement; and to basic amenities, subject to restrictions for forest protection.
Forest management rights – to protect forests and wildlife.


Eligibility to get rights under the Act is confined to those who “primarily reside in forests”
and who depend on forests and forest land for a livelihood. Further, either the claimant
must be a member of the Scheduled Tribes scheduled in that area or must have been
residing in the forest for 75 years.

Process of recognition of rights:

The Act provides that the gram sabha, or village assembly, will initially pass a resolution
recommending whose rights to which resources should be recognised. This resolution is
then screened and approved at the level of the sub-division (or taluka) and subsequently at
the district level. The screening committees consist of three government officials (Forest,
Revenue and Tribal Welfare departments) and three elected members of the local body at
that level. These committees also hear appeals.

Why this law was necessary?

What are called “forests” in Indian law often have nothing to do with actual forests. Under
the Indian Forest Act, areas were often declared to be “government forests” without
recording who lived in these areas, what land they were using, what uses they made of the
forest and so on. 82% of Madhya forest blocks and 40% of Orissa’s reserved forests were
never surveyed; similarly 60% of India’s national parks have till today not completed their
process of enquiry and settlement of rights. As the Tiger Task Force of the Government of
India put it, “in the name of conservation, what has been carried out is a completely illegal
and unconstitutional land acquisition programme.” Hence, this was law necessary.

Various factors that have prevented the proper implementation of the FRA since its
passage in 2006 include:

1. Process of documenting communities’ claims:

The process of documenting communities’ claims under the FRA is intensive — rough
maps of community and individual claims are prepared democratically by Gram Sabhas.
These are then verified on the ground with annotated evidence, before being submitted to
relevant authorities.

The Gram Sabha is treated as a public authority under the FRA, and if the higher
authorities under the law reject its claims, substantive reasons have to be provided for
doing so. This exhaustive process is why the official diktat to implement the FRA so quickly
lacks any understanding about the extent of the task and labour involved.

2. Reluctance of the forest bureaucracy to give up control:

Another main factor inhibiting the FRA’s full implementation is the reluctance of the forest
bureaucracy to give up control. The forest bureaucracy has misinterpreted the FRA as an
instrument to regularise encroachment. This is seen in its emphasis on recognising
individual claims while ignoring collective claims — Community Forest Resource (CFR)
rights as promised under the FRA — by tribal communities.

To date, the total amount of land where rights have been recognised under the FRA is just
3.13 million hectares, mostly under claims for individual occupancy rights.
3. Narrow interpretation of the FRA:

The narrow interpretation of the FRA is also to be blamed. It is against the letter and spirit
of the law, which seeks to undo historical injustices and return the forests to community
jurisdiction. It also contradicts the estimates for forest area collectively used by tribal and
other forest communities that are provided by government agencies themselves.

4. Environment Ministry’s moves:

The Environment Ministry’s conduct also causes concern. Entrusted with stewarding our
forests, it has instead concentrated great energy on how to hasten their felling (through the
forest clearances it awards). In doing this, it appears that it has, among other things,
mounted a prolonged effort to see if and how meaningful community participation can be
eliminated from the clearance process.

What needs to be done now?

The government can start by recognising the role played in the FRA’s meagre implementation by
the forest bureaucracy’s resistance as well as the acute lack of awareness of FRA’s community
rights provisions in State administrations and forest communities. In almost all States, the Forest
Department has either appropriated or been given effective control over the FRA’s rights
recognition process. This has created a situation where the officials controlling the implementation
of the law often have the strongest interest in its non-implementation, especially the community
forest rights provisions, which dilute or challenge the powers of the forest department.

If the government is serious about implementing the FRA, it should confront the forest
bureaucracy and make it clear that any obstruction on their part is unacceptable. The little
progress that has been made in implementation so far has been due to close coordination
between tribal departments, district administrations and civil society. There is also a clear need to
strengthen the nodal tribal departments, provide clear instructions to the State and district
administrations, and encourage civil society actors. Without a strong political will, this historical
transformation is unlikely to take place.

Way ahead:

Many states have a poor record of implementation of the act: Bihar, Jharkhand, Himachal Pradesh,
Karnataka, Kerala, Odisha, Telangana, Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal have been
identified as having lagged behind in implementation of the FRA. The misuse of a law cannot be
the reason to dilute it or call for its repeal. Land is a valuable resource for those who live off it and
one way of ensuring lesser fragmentation is to approve community forest rights which take a long
time for clearance. People are at the centre of protecting forests and conservation and if the FRA is
not delivering its promise, it can be blamed squarely on the government’s devious approach and its
barely concealed intent to enfeeble the law.


The implementation of the Forest Rights Act, 2006 has been opaque and there is serious lack of
awareness about its provisions not only among the beneficiaries but also among the officials in
charge of implementing it. Given the complaints from either side, it is time the government reviewed
the law and also looked at the objections raised when it was first tabled as a bill.
Down memory lane: Forest Rights Act yet to achieve major

The Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers Act (Recognition of Forest
Rights) Act, 2006, or the Forest Rights Act (FRA), is among India’s most important
legislation since 2005, along with the Right to Information Act and the Right to Education

FRA, which was passed in Parliament in December 2006 and which became operational
in January 2008, recognises the rights of forest dwellers, including Scheduled Tribes and
others, to use, protect and manage forest resources where they live.

It looks to right the wrongs of government policies in both colonial and independent India
toward forest-dwelling communities, whose claims over their resources were repeatedly FRA recognises the rights of forest dwellers,
ignored. including Scheduled Tribes and others, to use,
protect and manage forest resources where they

Big Change:
The end of Five-Year Plans: All you need to know

Source: Ministry of tribal affairs | *Data from tribal affairs department of Chhattisgarh

Brazil started recognising the rights of its forest dwellers over their land in 1980. Mexico, after decades of struggle, began the process in
1986, and Bolivia a decade later.

India, on the other hand, waited till 2006 to enact a law for the same. This is particularly inexplicable considering India has more than
twice as big an indigenous population as the whole of Latin America and the Caribbean put together.

Despite the delay, the law was lauded for finally attempting to do what was long overdue. The traditional rights of tribals and other forest
dwellers were taken from them right from the 1850s during the British rule, a policy continued through various laws even in independent

The alienation of tribals was one of the factors behind the Naxal movement, which affects states like Chhattisgarh, Odisha and
Jharkhand. But the law which aims to correct that has had a disappointing run so far.

Rights’ Path
Nearly 10 years after the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, better known as
the Forest Rights Act (FRA), was passed in Parliament in December 2006, its rollout has been patchy at best.

Even as questions are raised about the shortcomings in the implementation of FRA, which came into force in January 2008, what is
evident, at least in some parts of the country, is that the potential beneficiaries of FRA are laying claim to their rights under the Act, even
if some of those rights have not been recognised yet. Some villages in Chhattisgarh’s Korba district, rich in coal reserves and known as
the power generation capital of the state, are a case in point.

A cluster of 12 villages, about 80 km from Korba city, have made use of FRA provisions to stand up to the forest department on different
issues. One of the villages, Madanpur, was in the news last year, when Rahul Gandhi
visited it.

These villages, most of whose inhabitants belong to the Gond and Urao tribes, got
their community forest (CF) rights in May this year, around three years after they
submitted their claims, but they still have not got their community forest resource
(CFR) rights, which they claimed at the same time.

“Though (Congress vicepresident) Rahul Gandhi’s visit was not related to FRA, there
was pressure on the local administration to implement it after his visit,” says Alok
Shukla of Chhattisgarh Bachao Andolan, a non-governmental organisation.

Among the key rights in FRA are individual forest rights, CF rights and CFR rights.
Any person belonging to a Scheduled Tribe can claim individual rights to live in and
cultivate up to four hectares provided she occupied it and was dependent on it as of
December 13, 2005. Non-tribals, in addition to this requirement, will have to prove
their family’s residence in the vicinity of the forest land for 75 years prior to December

Under CF rights, FRA recognises the rights of a gram sabha, which comprises all the
adults of the village, over the forest land within the traditional boundaries of a village
or seasonal use of landscape in case of pastoral communities. This allows the
villagers to own and collect, use and dispose of minor forest produce besides timber
and the right to use grazing land and water bodies, among others.

Individual Forest Rights: Any person belonging to a Scheduled Tribe can claim
rights to live in and cultivate up to four hectares provided she has occupied it and
was depended on it as of December 13, 2005.

In case of a non-tribal, in addition to this requirement, she will have to prove her
family’s residence in the vicinity of the forest land for 75 years prior to December

Community Forest Rights: The Act recognises the rights of a gram sabha over
forest land within the traditional boundaries of a village or seasonal use of landscape
in case of pastoral communities. This allows the villagers to own and collect, use and
dispose of minor forest produce besides timber and the right to use grazing land and
water bodies, among others.

Community Forest Resource Rights: The most significant part of the Act, CFR
rights give the gram sabha the right to protect and manage their forest. No project
can come up in the forest nor can any conservation plan for the forest be carried out
without the approval of the gram sabha.

Authority of the Gram Sabha

The biggest game changer in FRA, CFR rights give the gram sabha the right to
protect and manage their forest. No project can come up in the forest nor can any
conservation plan for the forest be carried out without the approval of the gram

The authority of gram sabhas was upheld in a historic ruling by the Supreme Court in
2013, which gave 12 affected gram sabhas the right to decide on a bauxite mining
project of Vedanta group in Niyamgiri, Odisha. All of them voted against the project.

In July last year, a report pegged the total area in India eligible for CFR rights at 40 million hectares (1 hectare = 2.47 acres), 1 per cent
of which had been recognised till then. More recent data is not available. In comparison, just under a third of Latin America’s forests are
managed by indigenous communities.

There are around 150 million forest dwellers in India, of which 90 million are tribals. The villages in Korba district, some of which abut the
road from Raipur, the state capital, have been playing an active role in monitoring activities carried out by the forest department even
before they got their CF rights.

For instance, in Keraihapara, the department was engaged in a routine exercise of marking diseased and dead trees for cutting. “What
we found was they had marked healthy trees so the villagers reached and protested and got them to stop,” says 31-year-old Ujiar Singh,
a resident of the village. He claims that villagers managed to get the forest department to remove a fence as it was blocking the
movement of people and animals.

“The fence was there for three months before they removed it, but the trenches they dug are still there,” claims Singh. In other villages,
people have filled the trenches with mud, an act they could have only imagined a few years ago. Hriday Tigga, sarpanch of Dhajak, one
of the other villages, says gram sabhas are now consulted by the forest department before a plantation drive.
“If a thief enters someone’s home, will they keep quiet?” asks Tigga. Vivekanand Jha,
divisional forest officer of Korba, says the department has no option but to listen to

“Whenever we plan to do plantation, someone comes and says they have patta for a
particular piece of land there. The pattas should not be spread through the forest or
else we won’t be able to do our duty.”

Tigga says the villagers encounter resistance from the forest department in getting
their titles. “We keep telling them it is not a fight between the department and us.” Jha
denies this and says villages, which rely on forest produce like tendu (whose leaves
are used in beedis), mahua (whose flowers are used to make alcohol) and a kind of
mushroom, are being given rights in accordance with the law.

However, when asked about the delay in these villages getting their CFR rights yet,
he says: “They continue to enjoy rights over village forests as they always have but
we can’t demarcate a new area and give it to them.” This betrays the forest
department’s lack of understanding of FRA or its blatant disregard for the law.

Distinguishing Rights
FRA clearly states CFR rights apply not just to village forests, but also to protected
forests, reserved forests (which have more restricted access than protected forests),
and even protected areas like wildlife sanctuaries and national parks.

“There is resistance (to FRA) from the forest department not at the state level, but at
the field level. They think they are custodians of forests,” says an official at the
Chhattisgarh tribal affairs department. P Dayanand, collector of Korba district,

“It is more because of the ignorance of the lower-level staff. It will take some time (to
change their minds).” The 12 villages on the whole have got CF rights titles to only a
third of the land they claimed, with only one village, Paturiadand, getting rights over
all the land it claimed.

Dayanand says one reason for that is the claims are exaggerated, which could be
true in some but not all cases. Chhattisgarh, where tribals account for a third of the
population compared with the national average of 8.6 per cent, has so far denied
more than a half of individual rights claims and more than a third of community rights
claims. Moreover, the number of titles distributed so far as a proportion of claims
received is 42.3 per cent.

Kerala’s is the highest, at 65.5 per cent. As of April, around 40 per cent of overall
claims received have been settled across the country and over 30 per cent of the
land distributed is under community rights. Chhattisgarh does not report data
separately for CF rights and CFR rights, with activists inferring that this masks the poor implementation of CFR rights.

Even the monthly data available with the Union ministry of tribal affairs does not distinguish between the two rights. What is worse is
most states do not report any kind of community rights data. Moreover, nine states have not distributed any titles so far and Tamil Nadu
could not do so till February this year when the Supreme Court vacated a stay on the implementation of FRA by the Madras High Court.

Chhattisgarh has the notorious reputation of being the first state to revoke rights granted under FRA when earlier this year the
government withdrew the CF title of Ghatbarra village. This was done to facilitate mining in two coal blocks allotted to a Rajasthan
government enterprise.

Land had been diverted for the project in 2012 without completion of the FRA process and seeking the gram sabha’s approval. The
matter has now been taken to the Bilaspur High Court by activists. Union Tribal Affairs Minister Jual Oram, in an interview to ET
Magazine, says his ministry has written to the Chhattisgarh government on the issue.

The state, which was carved out of Madhya Pradesh in 2000, has been ruled by the Bharatiya Janata Party since December 2003. The
party also heads the ruling National Democratic Alliance at the Centre.

Chandravati Paikra, sarpanch of Paturiadand, where two blocks have been allotted to the state power generation company, is confident
that Paturidand and other villages that fall within the coal mines, will not face the same fate as Ghatbarra, which is only five km away.

“It will be very difficult for mining to happen here,” says Shukla. Tushar Dash of Vasundhara, an NGO in Bhubaneswar, says there are
similar examples of villagers’ assertion even in Odisha, one of the best performers in FRA implementation.

“Around 50 villages in Sundargarh, which have not got community rights yet, have put up boards in the forest with a map of the CFR
area, which also mentions the authority and powers of the gram sabha.” Interestingly, Sundargarh is represented by Oram in the Lok
Sharachchandra Lele, a senior fellow at the Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology
and the Environment, says even if villages are given CF and CFR rights, they will still
depend on state largesse for governance.

“Their capacity to think on their own has been crippled. That’s why the government
can’t oscillate between complete control and a complete hands-off policy.” He adds
that while money from the state creates dependence, resources create independence
for forest dwellers.

Afforestation is the establishment of a forest or stand of trees

(forestation) in an area where there was no previous tree cover
Controlling Resources
Activists say one of the biggest hurdles for FRA is that states like Maharashtra,
among the better performers, and Odisha are introducing policies which will help the
forest department retain control of forest resources through joint forest management
committees or similar bodies, which will dilute the powers of the gram sabha.

Equally contentious is the Compensatory Afforestation Fund (CAF) Bill, which

proposes to distribute over Rs 40,000 crore available with the Compensatory
Afforestation Fund Management and Planning Authority (CAMPA) to states for

Former environment minister and Congress MP Jairam Ramesh said in the Rajya
Sabha on Wednesday that the Bill should not contradict FRA and funds should be
spent only after the approval of gram sabhas. Oram finds Ramesh’s argument
politically motivated.

“Does CAMPA say that the afforestation should happen in the same tribal
areas?...Afforestation will be done wherever there is free land, where there are no
dwellers.” The Bill was passed in the Rajya Sabha on Thursday; it had been passed
in the Lok Sabha in May.

While the government has to make sure the CAF Bill is of a piece with FRA, there are
larger issues with the implementation of FRA which could take the bite out of it.

As tribals are not a big vote bank in most states, governments might find it
convenient to subvert FRA or not bother about it at all, unless the Centre takes a
more proactive role in pushing states to honour a law that could change the lives of

Excerpts from an interview with Union Tribal Affairs Minister Jual Oram

By Prerna Katiyar

On his ministry’s response to the forest department’s resistance to FRA

Had we not taken necessary actions and resolved the issue of resistance, the implementation rate would not have been so high. We
can’t take direct initiative. If at the sub-divisional level, a claim is rejected, one can go to the district level. There is a provision for

Stephen Hawking (1942-2018)

MARCH 15, 2018 00:02 IST
UPDATED: MARCH 15, 2018 00:14 IST

This great man took physics to the people, and changed the way we think about

F ew scientists manage to break down the walls of the so-called ivory tower of
academia and touch and inspire people who may not otherwise be interested in science.
Stephen Hawking was one of these few. Judging by the odds he faced as a young
graduate student of physics at Cambridge University, nothing could have been a more
remote possibility. When he was about 20 years old, he got the shattering news that he
could not work with the great Fred Hoyle for his PhD, as he had aspired to. Around this
time he was diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, an incurable motor neurone
disease, and given two years to live. Not many would have survived this, let alone
excelled in the manner he did. Luckily, the type of ALS he had progressed slowly, and
over time he made many discoveries that marked him among the great physicists of his
time. His first breakthrough was in the work he did for his PhD thesis. The expanding
universe and the unstoppable collapse of a black hole under its own gravity present two
extreme spectacles for the physicist to grapple with. Inspired by Roger Penrose’s ideas
on the latter, Hawking came up with a singularity theorem for the universe. This work
and its extensions, known as the Hawking-Penrose singularity theorems, brought him
international acclaim. Later, along with others he formulated the laws of black hole
mechanics, which resemble the laws of thermodynamics. Thinking along these lines led
him to a contradiction — that this theory predicted that black holes would exude
radiation, whereas in a purely classical picture nothing could escape the black hole, not
even light. He resolved this contradiction by invoking quantum mechanics. The
radiation of the black hole was named Hawking radiation.
There is no doubt that with Hawking’s death the world has lost an outstanding scientist.
But he was not only a pathbreaker in the world of science. He came to be known to
millions with the publication of A Brief History of Time, his best-selling book
describing in non-technical terms the structure, development and fate of the universe.
He ranks with Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein as that rare physicist who fired the
popular imagination. However, while Newton and Einstein worked on broad canvases,
Hawking was focussed on cosmology and gravitation. His was a life that carried to the
public not only the secrets of the cosmos but also the promise of hope and human
endeavour; he showed that disability need not hold a person back in the pursuit of his
dreams. He leaves behind a wealth of knowledge, and also the conviction that the will to
survive can overcome all odds.
Squander - waste something in a reckless and foolish manner.
Jettison - eject, discharge, abandon or discard (someone or something that is no longer wanted)


The power of two: on SP-BSP winning U.P. byelections

MARCH 15, 2018 00:02 IST
UPDATED: MARCH 15, 2018 00:13 IST

Will the SP-BSP victories be a catalyst for the formation of new political alliances?

W hile announcing her support for the Samajwadi Party in the Gorakhpur and
Phulpur Lok Sabha constituencies, Bahujan Samaj Party leader Mayawati was conducting a
political experiment: to test whether her party could effectively work with the SP, until
recently her principal rival. By all accounts, the experiment has been a striking success. Poll
arithmetic was an important reason for the reversal of fortunes of the Bharatiya Janata
Party in the two constituencies, especially Gorakhpur, which Yogi Adityanath had won five
successive times, beginning in 1998. Given this, the loss is an embarrassing political
setback for the Chief Minister and is likely to be perceived as the squandering of the
goodwill built up by successive heads of the Gorakhnath Math. Phulpur, vacated by Keshav
Prasad Maurya when he teamed up with Mr. Adityanath as his deputy CM, is also a stinging
defeat. That a Chief Minister and his deputy have lost in their own backyards is, to
understate the point, hardly a good advertisement for the BJP’s popularity or that of its
State government. Arguably, it is the BJP’s very success that has brought its rivals together.
The BSP, which has been averse to political alliances, had offered support to the SP
unconditionally without committing to a formal tie-up. The question now is what this
successful experiment will engender. Will it convince Ms. Mayawati to go farther, confident
that her support base is not averse to a larger alliance between the two parties? The fate of
the 2019 election may well depend on the answer to this. To an extent, the leadership of
Akhilesh Yadav helped seal the SP-BSP understanding. Ms. Mayawati found it easier to
jettison the baggage of the past now that her bitter rival and SP founder Mulayam Singh has
receded to the background. Akhilesh Yadav has been open to alliances, displaying a
willingness to rise above the clannishness of the earlier generation. What Gorakhpur and
Phulpur demonstrate is that the BJP is not invincible in the face of a new social and political
electoral regrouping, something that the SP and the BSP must be fully aware of.
Elsewhere, the byelections in Bihar’s Araria Lok Sabha and Jehanabad Assembly
constituencies have shown that the Rashtriya Janata Dal of Lalu Prasad will not be wiped
out by the return of Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal (United) to the BJP-led National Democratic
Alliance. Although the results in Bihar, unlike those in UP, may not lead to a realignment of
forces, the RJD and the Congress can hope to gain some political momentum on the back of
the BJP’s loss. The RJD may not have fully recovered from the collapse of the grand alliance
with the desertion of the JD(U), but it knows it is not out of the political equation
completely. Together with the Rajasthan by-election results, these losses have created
doubts about the strength of the BJP’s hold in the Hindi heartland, and given its rivals some
reason for cheer and some cause to believe in the arithmetic of alliances.
Chasm - a profound difference between people, viewpoints, feelings, etc.
Swirl - to (cause to) move quickly with a twisting, circular movement
Hawkish - advocating an aggressive or warlike policy, especially in foreign affairs.
Glean - extract, garner, obtain (information) from various sources, often with difficulty.


Rex Tillerson sacking: Rexit and beyond

MARCH 16, 2018 00:15 IST
UPDATED: MARCH 15, 2018 23:49 IST

More proof that propriety, protocol, punditry no longer hold sway in the U.S.

E ven by his standards for unexpected diktats, U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision
to fire his Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, and replace him with CIA Director Mike
Pompeo, came out of the blue. Mr. Tillerson, who was the CEO of ExxonMobil Corporation
before taking up the role, did not agree with Mr. Trump on fundamental policy matters,
the President said. This is widely seen as an allusion to Mr. Tillerson’s preference, contra-
Trump, for diplomacy as a means of defusing the North Korean crisis. Also implied was a
widening chasm between the two men on the merits of the Iran nuclear deal. With Mr.
Tillerson’s departure, the number of senior officials exiting the Trump administration
after a little more than a year has reached at least 24. Less than a week before the long-
rumoured “Rexit”, White House Chief Economic Adviser Gary Cohn, formerly a Wall Street
banker, quit his post over his opposition to Mr. Trump’s proposal to levy hefty steel and
aluminium tariffs. And, less than a week before Mr. Cohn, White House Communications
Director Hope Hicks resigned after admitting to a Congressional panel investigating
Russian influence on the 2016 election that she had occasionally told “white lies” on Mr.
Trump’s behalf. Rumours now swirl that National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster may
also soon be ousted. The question at this point is: does the existing coterie of senior White
House officials enjoy the confidence of their President to a sufficient magnitude as to
ensure that policies can be executed in a meaningful way?

In one sense, there does not appear to be cause for alarm over the incessant departures
from the White House. It is quite possible that Mr. Trump has used his first year in office to
consolidate his vision and attract the right talent to realise his governance paradigm,
essentially rooted in a nationalistic, or “America First”, world view. Take the case of Mr.
Pompeo: he is far more aligned with Mr. Trump’s hawkish approach towards the Kim Jong-
un regime than Mr. Tillerson was. There is a case to be made that Mr. Trump’s hardline
stance is what is ultimately bringing the North Koreans to the negotiating table. Mr.
Tillerson, insistent on talks, was likely to have been an impediment to this strategy. The
deeper message is that the liberal order of the Obama years is gone. Propriety, protocol and
punditry no longer hold sway — Mr. Trump had no quarrel with Mr. Tillerson over the
Secretary leaving numerous senior State Department posts vacant, but only cared about
the top diplomat’s concurrence with his strategy. The President will likely apply this
principle — and find himself the right people — in other policy areas as well, such as trade
and immigration. Nations that engage with America may glean valuable lessons from this
Omnibus - comprising several items.
Delinquent - failing in one's duty, negligent
Cahoot - partnership
Eloquent - fluent or persuasive in speaking or writing.
Tangle - twist together into a confused mass, become involved in a conflict or fight with

Credit tangle: on LoU ban

MARCH 16, 2018 00:15 IST
UPDATED: MARCH 15, 2018 23:50 IST

The RBI’s omnibus ban on a legitimate financing instrument is not the solution

A month after the ₹12,800-crore letters of undertaking (LoUs) fraud at Punjab

National Bank came to light, the Reserve Bank of India has decided to ban such
instruments as well as letters of comfort issued by bankers to businesses for international
transactions. While the government has been in firefighting mode, unleashing all
investigative agencies to probe the fraud, this is the first major step by the central bank on
the issue, apart from asking banks to ensure there are no slip-ups between their core
banking systems and the SWIFT mechanism used for international money transfers. LoUs
are among the most popular instruments to secure overseas credit by importers — known
as buyers’ credit in banking parlance — because of their attractive pricing. It is estimated
that overall, bank finance for imports into India is around $140 billion, of which over 60%
is funded through such buyers’ credit. Naturally, industry is unhappy with the RBI decision
as this would raise the cost for importers, who will now need to rely on more expensive
instruments such as bank guarantees and letters of credit. The move will also impact the
competitiveness of exporters who import raw materials for their products.
While the central bank had earlier blamed “delinquent behaviour by one or more
employees of the bank” and failure of internal controls for the PNB-Nirav Modi fiasco, RBI
Governor Urjit Patel has finally commented on the fraud. Mr. Patel said he had chosen to
speak because the central bank also feels the anger and pain over the banking sector frauds
that amount to “looting” the country’s future by “some in the business community, in
cahoots with some lenders”. Reiterating that PNB’s internal systems failed to take note of
the RBI’s warnings about such risks, Mr. Patel took on severe criticism about the RBI’s
inability to detect the fraud. He stressed that the RBI didn’t have adequate powers to
regulate public sector banks, and it could not remove any of their directors or liquidate
such a lender, as it can in the case of private sector banks. He made an eloquent demand
that the owner of public sector banks (that is, the government) must consider making the
RBI’s powers over banks ‘ownership-neutral’ and say what could be done with these banks.
The RBI’s stance is valid, as is its discomfort with knee-jerk reactions and the blame games
since the fraud came to light. In the very same vein, its omnibus ban of LoUs will impact
the $85 billion buyers’ credit market that was mostly conducted in accordance with the
law of the land. If an individual or some failed systems of a bank were indeed to blame,
why should bona fide transactions suffer? Perhaps the RBI could have tightened the norms
for LoUs and introduced safeguards based on the latest learnings. It is still not too late to
do that.
Disgruntled - angry or dissatisfied.
Jockey - struggle by every available means to gain or achieve something.


Andhra triangle: on TDP exiting NDA

MARCH 17, 2018 00:02 IST
UPDATED: MARCH 17, 2018 00:10 IST

Competitive politics is putting the TDP on a collision course with the BJP

S ometimes, the opponent is less important than the rival. The decision of the Telugu
Desam Party to leave the National Democratic Alliance is more about its competition
with the YSR Congress Party and less about its conflict with the Bharatiya Janata Party.
The desertion of the NDA happened alongside the announcement of a no-confidence
motion against the NDA government. But importantly, the TDP moved it separately,
independent of the one served by the YSRCP. Clearly, the effort was not to join hands with
other parties against the BJP, but to isolate the YSRCP politically. The TDP wants to
demonstrate that it is prepared to do more than the YSRCP in taking on the BJP, and
winning concessions for Andhra Pradesh from the Centre. In all this, there is no danger
to the NDA government. The BJP has the numbers to survive a no-confidence vote even
without any help from the other disgruntled allies such as the Shiv Sena. But the attempt
of the TDP is to show itself as the aggrieved party, as being more aggressive than the
YSRCP, rather than bring down the BJP-led government. Electorally, the BJP has been a
good fit for the TDP so far. The vote banks added up very well against the Congress, which
was the TDP’s main rival until 2014. The emergence of the YSRCP after a split in the
Congress, however, has thrown in a new variable: unlike the Congress, the YSRCP is not
averse to a tie-up with the BJP, and the TDP did not like the BJP cosying up to the YSRCP. In
aggravating its conflict with the BJP, the TDP was following the YSRCP’s lead. From being a
sought-after suitor in the eyes of both the TDP and the YSRCP, the BJP in Andhra Pradesh
seems to have morphed into the villain.
With an Assembly election looming next year, neither the TDP nor the YSRCP can afford
to be seen as an ally of the BJP. No matter what the Centre does in terms of special
packages for the State, both regional parties will jockey in demanding more rather than
settle for what is given. Chief Minister N. Chandrababu Naidu must be calculating that
any loss in votes because of the exit from the NDA will be more than compensated for by
the political dividends from taking a tougher stance against the Centre. Indeed, the
assertion that the Centre is diverting tax revenues collected from the southern States for
the development of the northern States is part of the competitive regional politics that
the TDP is forced to play with the YSRCP. Whether this will see the marginalisation of the
national parties, as happened in Tamil Nadu, is not clear. But those in the BJP who see in
the TDP’s decision an opportunity similar to the one in Maharashtra, where the Shiv Sena
ceded space after breaking the alliance, might be mistaken. For the moment, the BJP looks
like the biggest loser in the competitive regional politics of the TDP and the YSRCP.

Attack on former Russian spy: A perfect attack?

MARCH 17, 2018 00:02 IST
UPDATED: MARCH 17, 2018 00:09 IST

The suspicion of a Russian hand in targeting a spy in the U.K. will test British

T he attack on Sergei Skripal, a former Russian spy who had defected to the U.K., and his
daughter Yulia in the cathedral city of Salisbury on March 4 was an outrageous act flouting
all international norms. The military grade nerve agent used in the attack, the first of its
kind in Europe since World War II, has been identified as being from the Novichok class of
chemical agents developed by Russia during the Cold War. The modus operandi of the
attack was similar to the polonium poisoning of another former Russian spy, Alexander
Litvinenko, in London in 2006, an attack that is likely to have been approved by Russian
President Vladimir Putin according to a U.K. inquiry. It is therefore entirely reasonable that
Britain asked Russia to clarify if it was behind the attack or had somehow lost control over
the nerve agent, two possible explanations for the Salisbury incident. Having failed to get a
quick reply from Russia, British Prime Minister Theresa May instituted a slew of measures
in response to the attack, including expelling 23 Russian diplomats (Russia has promised
to retaliate), and freezing its government assets considered potentially harmful to Britons.

In addition to its relationship with Russia, the attack has tested Britain’s ties with the U.S.
and its NATO and European Union allies as the country leaves the EU. After some initial
hesitation and qualified support, the U.S. administration got behind Britain at the UN
Security Council; France and Germany have also supported the British position that Russia
was behind the attack. The attack brings home the point that it is crucial for Britain to
continue a coordinated security strategy with the rest of the EU once Brexit happens.
Within the U.K. itself, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn supported Ms. May’s decision to expel
Russian diplomats but, correctly, questioned the haste with which it was done, especially
since a thorough investigation had not been completed. He also asked that Russian finance
be blocked from funding British political parties. Britain and the rest of the democratic
world have every reason to be outraged at this barbaric attack and to look to Russia for an
explanation. Although the available evidence points at Moscow, it is within the realm of
possibility that a rogue actor and not the state acquired and deployed the nerve agent. It is
because the so-called free world cherishes the rule of law and reason, that a thorough
investigation into Russia’s role in the attack is done before punitive action beyond that
already instituted are considered. Tensions are running high and the last thing a fractious
world needs is another Cold War. It is in the U.K.’s interests in terms of security, support
and goodwill, if firm and resolute action — that is the need of the hour — is thoroughly
backed by reason and evidence.
The Great Pacific Garbage Patch (Pacific Trash Vortex), is a gyre of marine debris particles in the central North
Pacific Ocean discovered between 1985 and 1988. The patch extends over an indeterminate area of widely varying
range depending on the degree of plastic concentration used to define the affected area.
The patch is characterized by exceptionally high relative pelagic concentrations of plastic, chemical sludge, and other
debris that have been trapped by the currents of the North Pacific Gyre. Its low density (4 particles per cubic meter)
prevents detection by satellite imagery, or even by casual boaters or divers in the area. It consists primarily of a small
increase in suspended, often microscopic, particles in the upper water column.


In a plastics world — on safe bottled water

MARCH 19, 2018 00:02 IST
UPDATED: MARCH 18, 2018 23:16 IST

The presence of plastics in drinking water must compel drastic action

P lastics are now widely present in the environment, as visible waste along coastlines,
in lakes and rivers, and even in the soil. The recent finding that microplastic particles are
found even in ‘safe’ bottled water indicates the magnitude of the crisis. There is little
doubt that the global production of plastics, at over 300 million tonnes a year according to
the UN Environment Programme, has overwhelmed the capacity of governments to
handle what is thrown away as waste. Microplastics are particles of less than 5 mm that
enter the environment either as primary industrial products, such as those used in
scrubbers and cosmetics, or via urban waste water and broken-down elements of articles
discarded by consumers. Washing of clothes releases synthetic microfibres into water
bodies and the sea. The health impact of the presence of polypropylene, polyethylene
terephthalate and other chemicals in drinking water, food and even inhaled air may not
yet be clear, but indisputably these are contaminants. Research evidence from
complementary fields indicates that accumulation of these chemicals can induce or
aggravate immune responses in the body. More studies, as a globally coordinated effort,
are necessary to assess the impact on health. It is heartening that the WHO has come
forward to commission a review of the health impact of plastics in water.
Last December in Nairobi, UN member-countries resolved to produce a binding agreement
in 18 months to deal with the release of plastics into the marine environment. The
problem is staggering: eight million tonnes of waste, including bottles and packaging,
make their way into the sea each year. There is now even the Great Pacific Garbage Patch of
plastic debris. India has a major problem dealing with plastics, particularly single-use
shopping bags that reach dumping sites, rivers and wetlands along with other waste. The
most efficient way to deal with the pollution is to control the production and distribution
of plastics. Banning single-use bags and making consumers pay a significant amount for
the more durable ones is a feasible solution. Enforcing the Solid Waste Management Rules,
2016, which require segregation of waste from April 8 this year, will retrieve materials and
greatly reduce the burden on the environment. Waste separation can be achieved in
partnership with the community, and presents a major employment opportunity. The goal,
however, has to be long term. As the European Union’s vision 2030 document on creating a
circular plastic economy explains, the answer lies in changing the very nature of plastics,
from cheap and disposable to durable, reusable and fully recyclable. There is consensus
that this is the way forward. Now that the presence of plastics in drinking water, including
the bottled variety, has been documented, governments should realise it cannot be
business as usual.
Carte Blanche - unconditional authority; full discretionary power; free hand


Dangerous spiral: on India-Pak diplomatic row

MARCH 19, 2018 00:02 IST
UPDATED: MARCH 18, 2018 23:20 IST

New Delhi and Islamabad must address the tit-for-tat harassment of each other’s

R egardless of the provocation or the sequence of events, there is an urgent need for
India and Pakistan to address allegations of harassment of each other’s diplomats and
interference in High Commission work. While surveillance of diplomats by intelligence
agencies in New Delhi and Islamabad is not new, matters have escalated in the past
month, and the treatment of diplomatic officials by both sides has dropped to new lows.
The spark for this round of ‘tit-for-tat’ actions appears to be an incident in February,
when alleged ISI agents roughed up Pakistani construction workers headed for the Indian
mission’s new building site in Islamabad. While Pakistan’s foreign office claimed they did
not have security clearance to enter the diplomatic zone, India saw it as an attempt to
stop the work, adding that power and water connections were tampered with. Then, the
Pakistan High Commission in Delhi claimed that Indian security personnel warned
repairmen and electricians against entering its premises. Both missions said personnel
were being targeted on the road, with cars stopped and drivers intimidated. Other
instances on both sides include obscene phone calls, stoppage of milk and newspaper
delivery to diplomats, and even 3 a.m. doorbell rings.
The timing is clearly more than just coincidence, and the incidents mark a deliberate
policy by India and Pakistan to give their intelligence agencies a carte blanche to target
the other side. It is unfortunate that things have come to such a pass, weeks after the two
countries agreed to humanitarian measures for prisoners, with Pakistan Foreign Minister
Khawaja Asif accepting External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj’s proposals on the issue.
The allegations of harassment are more serious than just shadow-boxing, and must be
checked in order to avoid a further slippage in ties. They constitute technical violations of
the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations (1961) and the subsequent Vienna
Convention on Consular Relations (1963), which clearly state that a diplomatic agent’s
person, premises and property are inviolable and must be respected and protected by the
“receiving state”. The fear is that as a next step in this spiral, India and Pakistan may even
take stronger measures, including sending back diplomats or scaling down their
missions. India had declared Islamabad a non-family post in the wake of the terror attack
on an army school in Peshawar; Pakistan may now follow suit by withdrawing its families
from Delhi. At a time when bilateral dialogue has been stalled for years, and ceasefire
violations are becoming the norm on the Line of Control, any escalation will impact the
few lines of communication that remain. Cooler counsel must prevail.

Bending the rules — on nod for Neutrino project

MARCH 20, 2018 00:02 IST
UPDATED: MARCH 20, 2018 00:00 IST

The Neutrino Observatory is important, but it must get all environmental


A year after the National Green Tribunal suspended the environmental clearance
granted to the India-based Neutrino Observatory (INO), the Expert Appraisal Committee
(Infra 2) of the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change has overturned the
NGT verdict and granted environmental clearance for the project. The observatory, which
is to come up in Bodi West Hills in Theni district, Tamil Nadu, is regarded as a symbol not
just of India’s push for research in particle physics; it also signals the intent to nurture
centres of excellence. Neutrinos are subatomic particles that are extremely difficult to
detect. The laboratory cavern will be located 1,300 metres underground, with an access
tunnel. The rock cover is necessary to minimise the naturally occurring cosmic ray
backdrop. The project has become controversial on environmental grounds, given the
proposed site’s proximity to the Mathikettan Shola National Park in Kerala’s Western Ghats,
a global biodiversity hotspot. However, considering the project’s national importance, the
Environment Ministry had taken up the proposal for clearance as a “special case”. The green
signal is conditional on getting the consent of the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board and
the National Board for Wildlife. Despite the 17 conditions laid down by the Expert
Committee while granting approval, the manner in which the clearance was granted leaves
much to be desired.

The project has been approved under category B item 8(a) — building and construction
projects — of the Schedule to the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Notification,
2006. But it should have been treated as category A as the project lies just 4.9 km from the
national park in Idukki district of Kerala. The NGT had ruled that it was indeed a category A
project and the Tamil Nadu State expert appraisal committee also noted that it could not be
appraised under category B 8(a) as tunnelling and other activities went beyond the scope of
the section. According to the 2006 notification, projects or activities that come under
category A require “prior environmental clearance” from the Environment Ministry. Side-
stepping the EIA requirement on technical grounds both by the project proponents and the
Ministry is surely not the ideal way to go about such matters. For one, the EIA was done by
the Salim Ali Centre for Ornithology and Natural History, which is an “unaccredited
agency”. And though a public consultation with local people who have a “plausible stake” in
the project was conducted in July 2010, the details of the meeting were submitted only by
the end of February 2018. The importance of the project notwithstanding, treating it as a
special case and bypassing the environmental clearance protocol sets a wrong precedent.
Granular - having a roughened surface or structure.
Feuerbach - Ludwig Andreas von Feuerbach (28 July 1804 – 13 September 1872) was a German philosopher &
anthropologist best known for his book The Essence of Christianity, which provided a critique of Christianity
which strongly influenced generations of later thinkers, including Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels


Towards 2019 — on Congress plenary

MARCH 20, 2018 00:02 IST
UPDATED: MARCH 19, 2018 23:55 IST

What the Congress needs above all is a clear and granular action plan

A s president of the Congress, Rahul Gandhi seems to be taking on a more aggressive

avatar, attacking the BJP for its divisive ideology and its failings on the governance front.
But at the Congress plenary in Delhi, he had little to say by way of presenting an
alternative vision, other than claiming for his party the space given up by the BJP. Most of
his speech was a tirade against the party and its two main leaders, Prime Minister
Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah. Mr. Modi was linked to corruption with a
reference to the bank scam, and Mr. Shah to murder with a reference to the Sohrabuddin
encounter killing. To the BJP’s quest for absolute power, Mr. Gandhi posited the
Congress’s fight for truth. He contrasted the BJP’s commitment to an organisation (the
RSS) with the Congress’s voice for the entire nation. But mere aggression is not enough
and such words will ring inevitably hollow in the absence of a clear and granular action
plan. Even the resolutions passed at the plenary had little use for particulars. The party’s
economic resolution faintly echoed Karl Marx’s eleventh thesis on Feuerbach: “We have
heard the clamour for change. It is now time for change.” There was no point beyond this.
The resolution on agriculture, employment and poverty alleviation seemed more like a
budget proposal, the highlight being a 5% cess on the richest 1% to help the poor. The
party is clearly seeking the middle ground: equal economic opportunities for all without,
however, instilling the fear of tax terrorism or overbearing regulation. So, fostering of
business confidence and rewarding of risk-taking were mentioned in the same breath as
promoting employment and security. The relevance of the public sector in critical areas
such as defence, transportation and financial services was noted, while resolving to win
back economic freedom for India’s entrepreneurs. Couched in such vague generalities,
there is little to separate the Congress’s policies from those of the BJP.

If the economic resolution took the middle path, the political resolution was open-ended
with a call for a “pragmatic approach of working with like-minded parties and evolving a
common workable programme to defeat the BJP-RSS in 2019”. Although the Congress will
undoubtedly be the single largest party in any anti-BJP alliance, it will have to play the
role of a very junior partner in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. In States such as Gujarat and
Karnataka where it is a dominant party, it needs the help of smaller allies. Besides allies,
the party will need post-poll backing from the Left, however reduced in numbers, to piece
together a coalition against the BJP. A common workable programme will thus have to be
forged with parties with very different orientations. In this context, the vague
generalisations are understandable, but will they find favour with voters?
Confabulation - to talk informally
Pretence - an attempt to make something that is not the case appear true.


A non-BJP, non-Congress coalition: Back to Front?

MARCH 21, 2018 00:02 IST
UPDATED: MARCH 20, 2018 23:45 IST

The TMC and the TRS would like a third front, but it can only be a post-poll coalition

A third front is, by definition, destined for the third place. In its very formation, such a
coalition concedes the dominance of the other two players. When Telangana Chief Minister
K. Chandrashekar Rao mooted a non-BJP, non-Congress ‘federal’ front, he was already
defining the alliance negatively, in terms of its opponents rather than as a coming together
of like-minded parties. No wonder he found ready support from West Bengal Chief Minister
Mamata Banerjee, whose Trinamool Congress is fighting the Left and the Congress on one
side, and the BJP on the other. A coalition put together on such a loose foundation may not
find much resonance among voters nationally. Indeed, in India’s political history, the only
instances when non-Congress, non-BJP coalitions came to power were in the ninth and
eleventh Lok Sabhas. In each case, the governments were supported from the outside by
either the Congress or the BJP. While the V.P. Singh government survived on the BJP’s
support, the Chandra Shekhar government was at the mercy of the Congress. The two
United Front governments, with H.D. Deve Gowda and I.K. Gujral as Prime Ministers, were
likewise propped up by the Congress. These governments were all formed in post-poll
confabulations, and not through pre-poll alliances. Political circumstances have changed
and it is unclear whether the BJP and the Congress will support a grouping of smaller parties
just to keep each other out of power. In any case, the third front as proposed by Mr. Rao
cannot be an electoral alliance in the proper sense. The parties Mr. Rao seems to have in
mind do not add to each other’s vote banks: they are mostly fighting their own battles in
their own areas. The Trinamool Congress and Mr. Rao’s Telangana Rashtra Samiti of course
have nothing in common, other than a shared antipathy to the BJP and the Congress.

After his meeting with Ms. Banerjee, Mr. Rao spoke of a political alternative with a
development programme that will “depart from the routine kind of administration”
provided by the BJP and the Congress. As a regional party with the Congress as its main rival,
and the BJP a potential threat, the TRS is at present irrelevant outside of Telangana. A third
front in whatever form is Mr. Rao’s vehicle to arrive on the national stage. Both Telangana
and Andhra Pradesh are scheduled to have Assembly elections along with the Lok Sabha
polls in 2019, and without the pretence of being a part of a national-level alliance, the TRS
will struggle to be seen as a serious player in the parliamentary election. By all accounts, Mr.
Rao and Ms. Banerjee covered little common ground. Unlike Mr. Rao, Ms. Banerjee was non-
committal on keeping the Congress out. For the Trinamool, the Left and the BJP remain the
principal threats, and at the national level the Congress is still a partner Ms. Banerjee can do
political business with. The federal front can only be a hastily formed post-poll alliance.
Bogota - capital and largest city of Colombia
Reprisal - an act of retaliation.


Accord under strain — on Columbia peace pact

MARCH 21, 2018 00:02 IST
UPDATED: MARCH 20, 2018 23:46 IST

Colombia’s parliamentary vote highlights the danger to the truce with the FARC

C olombia’s presidential election, due in May 2018, will have a bearing on the fragile
peace accord of 2016 that ended one of the longest civil wars in history. The result of the
parliamentary election held this month has framed the stiff challenge the pro-peace
parties face. The accord between the Colombian security forces and the Revolutionary
Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) had won President Juan Manuel Santos the Nobel
Peace Prize; it is to his credit that the government managed to implement the accord in
bits and pieces despite unremitting hostility from the right-wing opposition led by
former President Álvaro Uribe. Now, in the March 11 parliamentary vote, Mr. Uribe’s
Democratic Centre Party has emerged as the largest bloc in the Senate with 19 seats. Two
other right-wing parties, Radical Change and Conservative Party, finished second and
third with 16 and 15 seats, respectively. In all, the anti-accord parties have 50 seats in a
House of 102. They may not have a clear majority, but the popular support they have
mustered is undeniable. The ruling Social Party of National Unity won just 14 seats.
FARC, contesting polls for the first time, finished with less than 1% of the vote, but is
assured representation in parliament thanks to the accord.
Over the last year, the record of implementation of the steps in the peace accord has been
patchy, though major strides were made in the form of demilitarisation and disbanding
of the FARC and its conversion into a legitimate political force. The other key aspects of
the accord required Bogota to protect mainstreamed FARC leaders and to prevent right-
wing militias from targeting left-wing leaders sympathetic towards the FARC. Yet, in the
past year, several left-wing activists — such as leaders of teachers’ unions and mining
workers’ unions — have been assassinated by right-wing militia groups. This has
prevented the possibility of a similar peace accord with the other remaining insurgent
group, the National Liberation Army (ELN), whose leadership fears reprisal by militias if
they lay down their weapons. Moreover, while the FARC leadership is committed to the
accord, some elements of the group are holding out in the jungles, refusing to
demilitarise and instead keep fighting. The next couple of months will be crucial for the
pro-accord forces, with the parliamentary vote showing how much work they have
ahead of them if they want to convince a sceptical electorate — for which memories of
the civil war are still quite raw — that peace deserves a chance. For this, they will have to
take dedicated steps to overcome the urban-rural disconnect in Colombia. If this not
done, the chances of the accord coming undone are dispiritingly high.
Circumspect - cautious, wary and unwilling to take risks.
Distraught - very worried and upset.


Deaths in Mosul
MARCH 22, 2018 00:02 IST
UPDATED: MARCH 22, 2018 00:06 IST

The revelation that 39 Indians were killed in Iraq should have been made with sensitivity

T he government’s announcement that the remains of 39 Indian workers, kidnapped four years ago
by the Islamic State, have been found near Mosul in Iraq, has brought a painful closure to the episode.
According to External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, remains found in a mass grave have been matched
conclusively with DNA samples for all but one of the men declared missing almost four years ago. Part of
a group of construction labourers held by the IS shortly after the fall of Mosul in June 2014, they had last
contacted their families in the middle of that month and said they were being held in a basement while
fighting raged outside. Since then, there was no word from them, but for the version of Harjit Masih, the
40th hostage who had managed to escape. Mr. Masih said he was the only one to escape from being
gunned down by the IS captors, and had subsequently fled with a group of Bangladeshi labourers. His
account was never accepted by the government. With the recovery of the remains in Mosul after its
recapture by Iraqi forces last year, the government must retrace Mr. Masih’s steps in Iraq in a wider effort
to end its investigations into the killings. This inquiry should also help answer larger questions about the
operating procedure followed by the authorities.

On the positive side, the government followed every lead in the case, and reached out to governments in
Iraq, Syria and Turkey in the effort to get any available information. However, it would have been more
prudent for the authorities to be circumspect instead of unnecessarily talking up the chances of finding
the men alive. At various points, the government told the families that the men had been seen at a
construction site, at a church in Mosul, and even that they were being kept in a prison in Badush, a village
on the edge the city of Mosul. Subsequent investigations, including visits by Minister of State for
External Affairs V.K. Singh, revealed those leads to be wrong. It turned out, for instance, that the prison in
Badush had been destroyed by the IS early during its occupation, something that should have been
verified before such information was disseminated to distraught family members. On receiving word
that the Martyrs Foundation, an Iraqi agency that helped identify the remains, would announce that they
had matched the DNA of the 39 men, the Ministry of External Affairs could have shown more sensitivity
by informing the families before Ms. Swaraj made the rushed announcement in Parliament. The biggest
lesson from the tragic saga is the need for a thorough appraisal of procedures for Indian labour going
abroad, so that they are not duped or remain uninformed about the risks of going to conflict areas.
Engender - cause or give rise to (a feeling, situation, or condition).
Dystopian - An imagined state/society in which there is great suffering or injustice, typically one that is totalitarian


Xi rules — on Chinese President's concentration of power

MARCH 22, 2018 00:02 IST
UPDATED: MARCH 22, 2018 00:11 IST

The Chinese President further consolidates his power through an administrative rejig

C hina is no stranger to reform. Over the past three decades the structure of the government has
changed at least half a dozen times. But the scale of reform pushed through this month is comparable to
that of 1998 when Zhu Rongji as Premier shut or merged 15 ministries as part of a major liberalisation
drive. This time, Prime Minister Li Keqiang has closed six ministries, two ministry-level agencies and
seven vice ministry-level departments. Beijing has also created a powerful anti-corruption agency, while
the Vice President, till now holding a ceremonial post, is expected to play an active role in policymaking.
The stamp of Xi Jinping, re-elected President for five more years with no term limit, is visible in these
reforms. A big decision is the empowerment of the Environment Ministry, which will fight air, water and
soil pollution, a top priority for Mr. Xi. Two of his close aides have been appointed to key posts — Wang
Qishan, an anti-corruption crusader, is now the Vice President, and Liu He, the President’s top fiscal
adviser, is a Vice Premier. Mr. Wang is expected to play a leading role in China’s engagement with the U.S.
at a time when fears of a trade war loom. Mr. Liu is to head the recently created Financial Stability and
Development Commission, which will coordinate between the banking and securities regulators and
work towards trimming China’s debt burden. This takes away some of the powers of the Prime Minister,
who has traditionally been China’s top economic official. The National Supervision Commission, which is
ranked above the judiciary, will have sweeping powers to fight corruption, including the power to detain
suspects for up to six months without access to lawyers.
The common thread in these changes is the strengthening of Mr. Xi’s full-blown control over party and
government. Earlier this month, by amending the Constitution to remove the two-term limit on the
Presidency that was introduced during Deng Xiaoping’s time, the Chinese Communist Party signalled
that it was moving away from the “collective leadership” motto to a new era under Mr. Xi. With the latest
measures, he is consolidating his hold. The political stability that China has enjoyed over the last two and
a half decades was a result of high and sustained economic growth coupled with reform. By concentrating
so much power in his hands, Mr. Xi has risked reversing the changes that have become institutionalised
over the last three decades. He may enjoy a measure of popularity and have the support of the party for
now, but such concentration of power is bound to engender opposition and criticism. His decision to lift
presidential term limits has already triggered an uproar on China’s social media networks, prompting the
authorities to censor a host of words and phrases, including Animal Farm, the title of George Orwell’s
dystopian novel. Mr. Xi will ignore these intimations of discontent only at his own risk.

CA, Facebook & you

MARCH 23, 2018 00:15 IST
UPDATED: MARCH 22, 2018 23:37 IST

The controversy is a wake-up call to press ahead with a robust data protection law

T he world has just learned how a data analytics firm, Cambridge Analytica, harvested
the data of 50 million Facebook users and used that information to feed strategies such as
‘behavioural microtargeting’ and ‘psychographic messaging’ for Donald Trump’s
presidential campaign in the U.S. Chris Wylie, a former CA employee-turned-whistle-
blower, set off a storm with revelations of how the company had deployed a ‘psychological
warfare’ tool for alt-right media guru Steve Bannon to try to sway the election in Mr.
Trump’s favour. CA chief executive Alexander Nix, who was suspended a few days ago
following an undercover report by a British TV broadcaster, said the company has used
other dubious methods in projects worldwide — including honeytraps to discredit clients’
opponents. The combination of using personal data without consent and tailoring slander
campaigns, fake news and propaganda to discovered preferences of voters is a potent and
corrosive cocktail. Facebook has said its policies in 2014, when a personality profiling app
was run on its platform, permitted the developer to scrape data not only from those who
downloaded the app but also from the profiles of their Facebook ‘friends’. Yet it did not
make sure the data were destroyed by the app’s developer Aleksandr Kogan, a Cambridge
University academic, nor by CA itself when it came to light that Mr. Kogan had sold the
data to CA, a third party. Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg has offered an
apology and expressed willingness to cooperate with inquiries and potentially open up
Facebook to regulation.

This episode has brought to light several issues that need to be addressed. First, companies
have been collecting data and tailoring marketing campaigns accordingly. The issue here is
particularly prickly because politics and elections are involved. Second, regardless of
whether what Facebook and CA did was legal or not, something is broken in a policy
environment in which the data of millions are taken and used when only 270,000 people
knowingly or unknowingly gave consent. Third, technology is evolving at a rapid pace,
raising the question whether laws need to be reframed mandating an opt-out approach
universally rather than an opt-in approach. Individuals often share their data without
being aware of it or understanding the implications of privacy terms and conditions.
Fourth, there must be clear laws on the ownership of data and what data need to be
protected. Personal data cannot be the new oil. Individuals must own it, have a right to
know what companies and governments know about them and, in most cases, that is,
when there are no legitimate security or public interest reasons, have the right to have
their data destroyed. The CA issue is a wake-up call for India; the government is still
dragging its feet on framing a comprehensive and robust data protection law.
De fang - make (something) harmless or ineffectual.
Lackadaisical - lacking enthusiasm and determination; carelessly lazy.


Curbing misuse: on SC ruling on the anti-atrocities law

MARCH 23, 2018 00:15 IST
UPDATED: MARCH 22, 2018 23:40 IST

Protecting innocent persons is fine, as long as the SC/ST Act is not de-fanged

W ill laying down procedural safeguards to curb false accusations work against the
interest of protecting the oppressed from discrimination and caste-based atrocities? This
is the salient question that arises from the Supreme Court verdict that has taken note of
the perception that the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of
Atrocities) Act, 1989, is being rampantly misused to settle personal scores and harass
adversaries. On the face of it, it is difficult to fault the court’s approach. It is settled law
that the mere scope for misuse of an Act is not a ground to invalidate it. Constitution
courts seek to preserve the spirit of such legislation on the one hand and to evolve
guidelines to prevent its misuse on the other. This is precisely what the two-judge bench
has aimed to do. It has ruled that Section 18, which bars grant of anticipatory bail to
anyone accused of violating its provisions, is not an absolute bar on giving advance bail
to those against whom, prima facie, there is no case. In addition, the Bench has
prohibited the arrest of anyone merely because of a complaint that they had committed
an atrocity against a Dalit or a tribal person. In respect of public servants, no arrest
should be made without the written permission of the official’s appointing authority;
and for private citizens, the Senior Superintendent of Police in the district should
approve the arrest.
In doing this, the Supreme Court has sought to strike a balance between protecting
individual liberty and preserving the spirit of a law in favour of oppressed sections.
Without any doubt, atrocities against Dalits are a grim social reality, necessitating a
stringent law to combat it. The Act was amended in 2015 to cover newer forms of
discrimination and crimes against Dalits and tribals to add teeth to it. It is true that
conviction rates under the Act remain low. The lackadaisical approach of investigators
and prosecutors to bring home charges against perpetrators of such crimes among the
dominant castes is reflected in statistics. Even if courts are right in taking note of the
tendency to misuse this law, society and lawmakers must be justifiably worried about
the sort of messaging contained in their rulings and observations. In an ideal system, as
long as every charge is judicially scrutinised and every investigation or prosecution is
fair and honest, one need not worry about misuse and its adverse effects. However, social
realities are far from being ideal. It ought to concern us all, including the courts, that
some laws designed to protect the weakest and most disempowered people do not lose
their teeth. Words of caution and rules against misuse may be needed to grant relief to
the innocent. But nothing should be done to de-fang the law itself.

Curbing misuse: on SC ruling on the anti-atrocities law

MARCH 23, 2018 00:15 IST
UPDATED: MARCH 22, 2018 23:40 IST

Protecting innocent persons is fine, as long as the SC/ST Act is not de-fanged

W ill laying down procedural safeguards to curb false accusations work against the
interest of protecting the oppressed from discrimination and caste-based atrocities? This
is the salient question that arises from the Supreme Court verdict that has taken note of
the perception that the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of
Atrocities) Act, 1989, is being rampantly misused to settle personal scores and harass
adversaries. On the face of it, it is difficult to fault the court’s approach. It is settled law
that the mere scope for misuse of an Act is not a ground to invalidate it. Constitution
courts seek to preserve the spirit of such legislation on the one hand and to evolve
guidelines to prevent its misuse on the other. This is precisely what the two-judge bench
has aimed to do. It has ruled that Section 18, which bars grant of anticipatory bail to
anyone accused of violating its provisions, is not an absolute bar on giving advance bail
to those against whom, prima facie, there is no case. In addition, the Bench has
prohibited the arrest of anyone merely because of a complaint that they had committed
an atrocity against a Dalit or a tribal person. In respect of public servants, no arrest
should be made without the written permission of the official’s appointing authority;
and for private citizens, the Senior Superintendent of Police in the district should
approve the arrest.
In doing this, the Supreme Court has sought to strike a balance between protecting
individual liberty and preserving the spirit of a law in favour of oppressed sections.
Without any doubt, atrocities against Dalits are a grim social reality, necessitating a
stringent law to combat it. The Act was amended in 2015 to cover newer forms of
discrimination and crimes against Dalits and tribals to add teeth to it. It is true that
conviction rates under the Act remain low. The lackadaisical approach of investigators
and prosecutors to bring home charges against perpetrators of such crimes among the
dominant castes is reflected in statistics. Even if courts are right in taking note of the
tendency to misuse this law, society and lawmakers must be justifiably worried about
the sort of messaging contained in their rulings and observations. In an ideal system, as
long as every charge is judicially scrutinised and every investigation or prosecution is
fair and honest, one need not worry about misuse and its adverse effects. However, social
realities are far from being ideal. It ought to concern us all, including the courts, that
some laws designed to protect the weakest and most disempowered people do not lose
their teeth. Words of caution and rules against misuse may be needed to grant relief to
the innocent. But nothing should be done to de-fang the law itself.

A first step — on NDA govt.'s Ayushman Bharat

MARCH 24, 2018 00:15 IST
UPDATED: MARCH 23, 2018 23:47 IST

The National Health Protection Mission requires a bold, holistic approach

T he NDA government’s scheme to provide health cover of ₹5 lakh per year to 10 crore
poor and vulnerable families through the Ayushman Bharat-National Health Protection
Mission has taken a step forward with the Union Cabinet approving the modalities of its
implementation. Considering the small window, just over a year, available before the term
of the present government ends, urgent action is needed to roll out such an ambitious
scheme. For a start, the apex council that will steer the programme and the governing
board to operationalise it in partnership with the States need to be set up. The States,
which have a statutory responsibility for provision of health care, have to act quickly and
form dedicated agencies to run the scheme. Since the NHPM represents the foundation for
a universal health coverage system that should eventually cover all Indians, it needs to be
given a sound legal basis, ideally through a separate law. This could be on the lines of
legislation governing the rights to food and information. Such legislation would
strengthen entitlement to care, which is vital to the scheme’s success. It will also enable
much-needed regulatory control over pricing of hospital-based treatments. The initial
norms set for availing benefits under the NHPM, which subsumes earlier health assurance
schemes, appear to make the inclusion of vulnerable groups such as senior citizens,
women and children contingent on families meeting other criteria, except in the case of
Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe households. The government should take the bold
step of including these groups universally; the financial risk can be borne by the taxpayer.

Universal health coverage is defined by the WHO as a state when “all people obtain the
health services they need without suffering financial hardship when paying for them”.
With its endorsement of the Sustainable Development Goals for 2030, India will have to
constantly raise its ambition during the dozen years to the deadline. This underscores the
importance of raising not just core budgetary spending every year, but paying attention to
social determinants of health. Affordable housing, planned urban development, pollution
control and road safety are some aspects vital for reducing the public health burden.
Unfortunately, governments are paying little attention to these issues, as the quality of life
erodes even with steady economic growth. In some of its early assessments on the road to
universal health coverage, NITI Aayog advocated a State-specific approach rather than a
grand national health system to expand access. But the NHPM has a national character,
with States playing a crucial role in its implementation, and beneficiaries being able to
port the service anywhere. It is a challenging task to make all this a reality, and the
government will have to work hard to put it in place.

Rising risks — on Fed rate hike

MARCH 24, 2018 00:15 IST
UPDATED: MARCH 23, 2018 23:49 IST

As the U.S. continues to raise benchmark rates, India should take precautionary

T he U.S. Federal Reserve continues to slowly pull away the punch bowl as the party
gets going. This week the Fed raised its benchmark short-term interest rate by 25 basis
points to 1.50-1.75%, the highest in a decade. While this is only the sixth rate increase since
the financial crisis of 2008 — which pushed central banks to cut interest rates to historic
lows — it portends further increases in global interest rates. Higher borrowing costs could
squeeze both markets and the wider economy. If its dot-plot projections are considered,
the Fed under its new Chairman Jerome Powell — who chaired the Federal Open Market
Committee meeting for the first time on Wednesday — is expected to raise rates two more
times in 2018. And with the American economy projected to grow at a fairly healthy clip
amid quickening inflation, the increases in the Fed’s discount rate are expected to gather
pace over the next two years. Now, as the Fed and other global central banks move towards
normalising monetary policy, the impact on the wider credit markets is slowly beginning
to show. This is particularly so in the case of the interbank lending market, which is
directly influenced by central banks to affect interest rates across the board. The London
Interbank Offered Rate, which is the rate at which international banks lend to each other
and serves as a benchmark for lending rates, has risen for more than 30 consecutive
sessions and is at its highest since the financial crisis. Its effect has spilled over into other
markets, including the corporate debt market.
Rising rates amid improving global economic growth could adversely affect the capacity of
private firms to service their debt. This risk of default by private borrowers has been
flagged by various organisations, including the International Monetary Fund last month.
It is, after all, no secret that private corporations attracted by ultra-low interest rates had
heavily loaded up on debt over the last decade. Some companies borrowed heavily from
across the borders, thus making them prone to exchange rate risks as well. Any widespread
default on debt today would be reminiscent of the 2004-2006 period when the Fed’s raising
of rates to tackle inflation led to a mass default on U.S. mortgage debt. Global markets on
Friday witnessed a steep sell-off that was immediately linked to President Donald Trump’s
recent decision to impose new tariffs on China. Trade wars clearly have a negative impact
on global growth and corporate earnings. But the wider sell-off, under way since February,
can also be linked to rising interest rates which adversely affect asset prices. India, which
could be hit by fund outflows as overseas investors look homeward to benefit from the
rising rates, would do well to take precautionary steps.

Unity in defeat: SP-BSP ties after Rajya Sabha polls

MARCH 26, 2018 00:02 IST Biennial - taking place every other year.
UPDATED: MARCH 25, 2018 23:24 IST

Far from driving them apart, the Rajya Sabha polls have brought the SP and the
BSP closer

E lections to the Rajya Sabha would have been dull, predictable affairs if not for stories
of intrigue and betrayal. In this round of biennial elections to the Upper House of
Parliament, the element of drama was provided by the 10th seat from Uttar Pradesh,
eventually won by the Bharatiya Janata Party over the Bahujan Samaj Party through a
combination of cross-voting and last-minute switch of loyalties. BSP legislator Anil
Kumar Singh was open about his rebellion, and his support for the BJP candidate.
Independent member Raghuraj Pratap Singh, who is close to the SP, helped the BJP’s cause
too. The battle for the 10th seat, which the BJP could not have won on its own, supposedly
held long-term implications for the political churn that U.P. is now witnessing. The BJP
saw it as a test of the new bonding between the SP and the BSP, which won for the SP two
Lok Sabha by-elections recently. Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath sought to paint the result
less as a satisfying win for his party and more as a disturbing result for the BSP, saying the
SP took votes from others but did not return them. More than getting an additional seat,
the BJP was hoping that the outcome would sow the seeds of distrust between the SP and
the BSP. Although clearly unhappy with the defeat, BSP leader Mayawati was unwilling to
let it jeopardise the nascent understanding with the SP, and said the loss would not affect
her party’s growing proximity to the SP. Indeed, she saw it as a consequence of what she
claimed was the BJP’s strategy to drive a wedge between the two parties. Instead of driving
them apart, the result seems to have brought the SP and the BSP closer.
Despite its success in the polls in U.P., the BJP is no closer to undermining the opposition in
the Rajya Sabha. The Telugu Desam Party has quickly made the transition from a
disenchanted ally to a fierce opponent. The Telangana Rashtra Samiti, even while trying to
maintain good equations between its government and the Centre, is working towards a
federal front opposed to both the Congress and the BJP. The 29 seats (out of 58) that the BJP
won in this round will not alter the balance in the Rajya Sabha, at least not immediately. If
in U.P. the election brought two opposition parties closer, in West Bengal it created more
differences between the Left and the Congress. The Trinamool Congress’s support may
have been for Abhishek Manu Singhvi as an individual, and not for his party, the Congress,
but the net effect was that the Left was unhappy with the Congress and its candidate. The
elections to the Rajya Sabha are not a reflection of the strengths of the parties on the
ground, but they can alter political equations and have a bearing on direct elections in the
near future.
Status Quo - existing state of affairs
Status Quo Ante - the way things were before
Status Quo Ante Bellum - the way things were before the war
Male - capital and most populous city in the Republic of Maldives
1988 Indias actions in Maldives (Operation Cactus) - The 1988 Maldives coup d'état was the attempt by a group of
Maldivians led by Abdullah Luthufi and assisted by armed mercenaries of a Tamil secessionist organisation from Sri
Lanka, the People's Liberation Organisation of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE), to overthrow the government in the island
republic of Maldives. The coup d'état failed due to the intervention of the Indian Army, whose military operations efforts
were code-named Operation Cactus by the Indian Armed Forces. India received international praise for the operation.
The operation also strengthened Indo-Maldivian relations as a result of the successful restoration of Gayoom govt.

After the emergency: repairing ties with Maldives

MARCH 26, 2018 00:02 IST UPDATED: MARCH 25, 2018 23:27 IST

Repairing ties with the Maldives will test Indian diplomacy

T he Maldivian government’s decision to lift the state of emergency after 45 days, just
ahead of the expiry of its second self-imposed deadline, comes as cold comfort for those
concerned about the turn of events in the islands over the past couple of months. In a
statement India said the withdrawal of the emergency is but “one step”, and much more
must be done to restore democracy in the Maldives. The opposition, mostly in exile and led
by former President Mohamad Nasheed, says the emergency was lifted only because
President Abdulla Yameen has established total control over the judiciary and parliament
since the February 1 court verdict that cancelled the sentencing of 12 opposition leaders
and ordered their release. In a dramatic turn of events Mr. Yameen had then ordered the
arrest of two judges, as well as hundreds of activists and politicians including former
President Abdul Gayoom, and imposed a state of emergency. The remaining judges
overturned the February 1 release order, under what is seen to be coercion by the security
forces, which had locked down the Majlis (parliament) and court buildings. Therefore,
lifting the emergency does not automatically amount to status quo ante.

Repairing India-Maldives ties, that have taken an equally sharp dip since February 1, will
be a tall order. Male has reacted sharply to India’s public statements on the emergency, as
well as now to the statement welcoming the lifting of the emergency, saying that the
events of the past couple of months were “internal political matters”, and India’s
statements of disapproval were “not helpful at all”. The pushback from the Yameen
government is in stark contrast to its desire over the past few years to work with India, and
it isn’t hard to see why. Bolstered by a close relationship with China, Mr. Yameen has in a
matter of months gone from declaring an ‘India first’ policy to disregarding its concerns.
With military exchanges, a free trade agreement with China and a slew of Chinese
infrastructure investments in place, the Yameen government clearly considers itself
sufficiently insulated from any counter-moves by India or the U.S. During the current
crisis, China placed its diplomatic might behind Mr. Yameen, and even offered to broker
talks between the government and the opposition, a role that India would have been
naturally expected to play in the past. It is important to note that a military intervention
by India was never a possibility, and comparisons made to India’s actions in 1988 are
pointless. India has been wise to keep its counsel and not over-react to the recent events.
But going ahead, its challenge is tougher: to demonstrate its relevance to the Maldives as
the biggest power in the South Asian region, while helping steer Mr. Yameen to a more
reasonable and inclusive democratic course ahead of the presidential election later this
Searing - severely critical, extremely hot or intense.
Specious - superficially plausible, but actually wrong.
Indictment - accusation, arraignment, a formal charge or accusation of a serious crime.
Vitiating - spoil or impair the quality or efficiency of, destroy or impair the legal validity of.
Scrupulously - with great effort to avoid doing wrong.
Principle of natural justice - Terminology for the rule against bias (nemo iudex in causa sua) and the right to a fair
hearing (audi alteram partem).
Rule against bias - A person is barred from deciding any case in which he or she may be, or may fairly be suspected to be, biased. A
public authority has a duty to act judicially whenever it makes decisions that affect people's rights or interests, and not only when it
applies some judicial-type procedure in arriving at decisions.
Right to a fair hearing requires that individuals should not be penalized by decisions affecting their rights or legitimate expectations
unless they have been given prior notice of the case, a fair opportunity to answer it, and the opportunity to present their own case.

Principle & procedure: on the court ruling on AAP MLAs

MARCH 27, 2018 00:02 IST UPDATED: MARCH 26, 2018 22:52 IST

The court ruling on AAP MLAs is a scathing indictment of the EC’s functioning
The Delhi High Court verdict setting aside the disqualification of 20 Aam Aadmi
Party MLAs in Delhi is a searing indictment of the manner in which the Election
Commission handled the complaint that they held offices of profit while serving as
parliamentary secretaries. For a body vested with the crucial power to determine whether
lawmakers have incurred disqualification in certain circumstances and advise the
President or the Governor suitably, this is an embarrassing moment. The court has not
reviewed its decision on merits. Rather, it has ruled that the EC violated the principles of
natural justice while adjudicating a lawyer’s complaint against the legislators. It failed to
offer an oral hearing on the merits of the complaint and chose to hide under the specious
argument that notices had been issued to the MLAs to respond to documents that the EC
had summoned from the Delhi government. After saying in its order of June 2017 that it
would fix a date for the next hearing, the commission issued two notices seeking replies
but fixed no date; instead, it proceeded to give its decision on January 19, 2018. Further,
Election Commissioner O.P. Rawat, who had recused himself at an earlier point, rejoined
the process without intimation to the legislators. And another vitiating factor was that
Election Commissioner Sunil Arora, who had not heard the matter and assumed office
only in September 2017, had signed the order. It is a basic feature of judicial or quasi-
judicial processes that someone who does not hear a matter does not decide on it.

The high court order scrupulously adheres to the core principles of judicial review of
decisions made by a duly empowered adjudicatory body. Courts do not normally plunge
into the merits of such a decision, but examine whether there has been any violation of
natural justice, whether sufficient opportunity has been given to the parties and whether
the proceedings were vitiated by bias, arbitrariness or any extraneous consideration. That
a pre-eminent constitutional body should be found wanting in ensuring natural justice
while answering a reference from the President is a sad comment on its functioning. It
ought to have treated the matter with abundant caution, given the ease with which
political parties tend to question the EC’s impartiality. The EC has an opportunity to
redeem its name by more carefully considering the same question that has now been
remanded to it for fresh adjudication. It could appeal to the Supreme Court, but a better
course would be to hold a fresh and fair hearing. The high court has acknowledged the EC’s
“latitude and liberty” in matters of procedure, but cautioned that any procedure should be
sound, fair and just. In proceedings that may result in unseating elected representatives,
fairness of procedure is no less important than finding an answer to the question whether
they have incurred disqualification.
Scuff - Scrape or brush the surface of (a shoe or other object) against something.
Buff - a person who knows a lot about and is very interested in a particular subject
Turf - surface layer of land on which grass is growing
Lozenges - a small medicinal tablet, originally in the shape of a lozenge, taken for sore throats and dissolved in mouth.
Infamy - notoreity, the state of being well known for some bad quality or deed.
Tarred - cover (something) with tar.
Fracas - a noisy disturbance or quarrel.
Spur of the moment - on impulse; without planning in advance.
Nefarious - (typically of an action or activity) wicked or criminal.

Scuff and buff: on the ball-tampering controversy

MARCH 27, 2018 00:02 IST UPDATED: MARCH 26, 2018 23:00 IST

Australia needs to do a lot more to punish the ‘ball-tampering’ guilty

Cricket is a sport, but it is also a code of honour. The phrase ‘it’s not cricket’ refers to any act that is
not fair. That it has been called ‘a gentleman’s game’ suggests that it is held to high standards. Yet, like a
few other things wrong with the game, ball-tampering remains one of its murkiest secrets. The
seemingly innocuous application of saliva and sweat, and more interventionist acts such as pressing
chewed lozenges, throwing the ball hard on the surface, the use of nails or abrasive dust from the turf,
and in some cases the use of bottle openers have plunged a knife into the game’s heart even as they
enhanced many a fast bowler’s ability to extract reverse-swing. This past weekend, Steve Smith’s
Australian team went one step further on that road to infamy, prompting its opening batsman Cameron
Bancroft to scuff the ball with a yellow tape laden with dirt-granules from the pitch during the course of
the third Test against hosts South Africa at Cape Town’s Newlands Ground. The act, caught on camera, and
the subsequent admission of guilt by the fielder and Smith have tarred them and their fellow
accomplices in the leadership group, including vice-captain David Warner and coach Darren Lehmann.
The entire episode has also raised questions about the manner in which a powerhouse such as Australia
goes about playing its cricket.

The fracas highlights the perils of wanting to win at any cost, an unfortunate ‘call-to-duty’ that now finds
favour in most cricketing units. In fact, ball-tampering has been attempted by most international teams.
Responses from ‘guilty’ players have ranged from injured-innocence to grudging acceptance of
complicity. In this case, Cricket Australia moved fast, forcing Smith and Warner to step down from
leadership roles. Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull publicly questioned the team’s approach
to the game. And Rajasthan Royals replaced Smith with Ajinkya Rahane as its captain for the forthcoming
Indian Premier League season. The International Cricket Council, for its part, imposed a one-Test ban on
Smith, and fined him 100% of his match fee. Bancroft got a 75% fine. But is this enough? Clearly no. Not
surprisingly, the overwhelming feeling among the game’s greats and the larger cricketing community is
that these measures are no more than a gentle slap on the wrist. Bancroft’s act wasn’t a spur of the
moment initiative; it was a pre-meditated action thought up during lunch break on Saturday. Smith,
Bancroft, Warner, Lehmann and whoever else orchestrated this despicable move deserve firmer
punishment. Sadly, a series which South Africa currently leads 2-1 will now be remembered for trash-talk
and a nefarious attempt to alter the shape of the ball. Whatever this is, it’s not cricket.
Homestretch - the last part of an activity or campaign.
Meddling - interfere in something that is not one's concern.
Refurbish - renovate and redecorate (something, especially a building).
Dampener - a thing that has a restraining or subduing effect.


Karnataka elections: homestretch before Lok Sabha

MARCH 28, 2018 00:02 IST
UPDATED: MARCH 27, 2018 23:33 IST

The Karnataka election will signal Congress’s preparedness to contain the BJP in

K arnataka was supposed to be the Bharatiya Janata Party’s point of entry into
southern India. But after its historic victory in the 2008 Assembly election, the party lost
its way in the State, and the Congress staged a comeback five years later. Now, far from
expanding to the neighbouring States, the party is struggling to return to power in
Karnataka in the face of a determined defensive battle by the politically savvy Congress
Chief Minister, Siddaramaiah. A relatively new entrant to the Congress, he has created
his own space in the faction-ridden party and in the wider public sphere by traversing
caste divides and resisting communal polarisation. Thus, the single-phase election on
May 12 could witness a face-off between the BJP and the Congress, with the Janata Dal
(Secular) a distant third. The BJP’s challenge is mounted by the old warhorse B.S.
Yeddyurappa, its most valuable asset and arguably also its greatest liability. If he won it
for the BJP in 2008, he also ensured a defeat in 2013. After he resigned as Chief Minister
following allegations of involvement in illegal mining and land deals, Mr. Yeddyurappa
tried to run the government through handpicked men. When there was resistance to his
meddling from the outside, he formed his own party, the Karnataka Janata Paksha, to
down the BJP in 2013, but returned in time to help the BJP perform creditably in the 2014
election. In the absence of other evidence, it must have seemed to the BJP’s national
leadership that it could win only with the active assistance of Mr. Yeddyurappa.

Mr. Siddaramaiah has used divisive tactics of his own. His government aided demands
for religious minority status for Lingayats, a Shaivite section from which Mr.
Yeddyurappa, and by extension the BJP, draw substantial support. And he indulged
regional sentiments by unveiling a Karnataka State flag. Both decisions are awaiting the
approval of the Centre, but the Congress believes that irrespective of what the BJP-led
government at the Centre does, the dividends are for it to reap. Agitations against the
use of Hindi in Metro stations are also being turned to the disadvantage of the BJP, which
is trying to refurbish its image as a Hindu-Hindi party by stressing solely on the Hindu
aspect. Karnataka will not be the last State to go to the polls before the Lok Sabha
election of 2019, but it holds great importance for the campaigns of the Congress and the
BJP in the run-up to 2019. A loss for either will be a dampener, and a win a great morale
booster. Leaders of both parties need to convince themselves, more than anyone else,
that they have their nose ahead as they near the homestretch.
Kremlin - a fortified complex at the heart of Moscow, serves as the official residence of the President of the
Russian Federation
concerted - jointly arranged or carried out, coordinated, united.
purge - to get rid of people from an organization because you do not agree with them
hawk - A person who advocates an aggressive or warlike policy, especially in foreign affairs.
exacerbate - aggravate, make (a problem, bad situation, or negative feeling) worse.
corollary - a proposition that follows from (and is often appended to) one already proved.
eschew - deliberately avoid using; abstain from.

Russia, a rogue nation?

MARCH 28, 2018 00:02 IST UPDATED: MARCH 27, 2018 23:23 IST

The West must find some means to bring Russia to the negotiating table

R ussia made headlines for all the wrong reasons this week, when a clutch of countries
led by the U.S. expelled more than 100 of its diplomats and intelligence officers over
suspicion that the Kremlin was behind a nerve agent attack on a Russian spy and defector to
the U.K., Sergei Skripal, and his daughter Yulia, in Salisbury on March 4. Besides the U.S., 14
member-states of the European Union, including Germany, France, Poland, the Czech
Republic, Lithuania, Italy, Denmark, the Netherlands and Latvia, undertook coordinated
expulsions, with Australia also joining them. In a sense this move, seen as the most
dramatic, concerted such purge since the Cold War years, has been coming for some time.
Last week the U.K. led the way when it expelled 23 Russian diplomats, but the week before
that the U.S. had slapped Russia with sanctions against multiple individuals and entities for
interfering in the 2016 U.S. presidential election through covert online propaganda,
including fake news. Beyond these specific charges lie other alleged violations: in
Afghanistan, President Donald Trump’s senior-most ground commander has accused Russia
of arming Taliban militants; on the North Korean crisis Mr. Trump mentioned in January
that Russia was helping Pyongyang avoid UN sanctions; and the EU last year voted to extend
into 2018 sanctions that prohibit its businesses from investing in Crimea. Has Russia truly
gone rogue, and is this its grand strategy to reclaim its superpower status?
The answer is yes and no. To an extent the U.S. response, significant though it may appear on
the surface, signals to Russia an inconsistent application of any principles of bilateral and
multilateral engagement. Scarcely a week ago, Mr. Trump congratulated Russian President
Vladimir Putin on his re-election, apparently against the advice of senior White House
officials, and this drew sharp criticism even from fellow Republicans. He apparently did not
deem the nerve agent attack a subject deserving of mention on that phone call. Yet, shortly
thereafter he replaced National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster with John Bolton, a long-
standing Russia hawk. What would concern democracy-minded Americans is that the
expulsion of Russian diplomats might serve as an easy distraction device in the ongoing
investigation into whether Mr. Trump or his associates colluded with Russian entities to
influence the 2016 presidential election. Whatever the true intentions of the current U.S.
administration are, it would be naive to assume that Moscow will miss any opportunity to
tighten its strategic grip on global geopolitics, whether in terms of influencing foreign
elections, undermining Western coalition forces in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, or shadow
manoeuvres that exacerbate instability in the context of North Korea and Iran. Contrarily, it
is imperative that the West, perhaps led by the U.S. or the EU, find some means to bring Mr.
Putin to the negotiating table, the corollary of which is that he must eschew his current
preference for political subversion.
Brook - tolerate, allow
small stream
Abominable - causing moral revulsion, loathsome
Salutary Effect - producing a beneficial effect


Curbing the khaps

MARCH 29, 2018 00:02 IST
UPDATED: MARCH 28, 2018 22:54 IST

The Supreme Court guidelines are welcome — but we need a strong law on ‘honour’

M any crimes committed in the name of defending the honour of a caste, clan or
family may have their origin in India’s abominable caste system, but there are other
contributing factors as well. Entrenched social prejudices, feudal structures and patriarchal
attitudes are behind what are referred to as ‘honour killings’. While these cannot be
eradicated overnight through law or judicial diktat, it is inevitable that a stern law and
order approach is adopted as the first step towards curbing groups that seek to enforce such
medieval notions of ‘honour’ through murder or the threat of murder, or ostracisation. It is
in this context that the Supreme Court’s strident observations against khap panchayats and
guidelines to deal with them acquire significance. It is not the first time that the apex court
has voiced its strong disapproval of khaps, or village assemblies that assume the authority
to discipline what they deem behaviour that offends their notions of honour. Previous
judgments have made it clear that the life choices of individual adults, especially with
regard to love and marriage, do not brook any sort of interference from any quarter. In the
latest judgment, a three-judge Bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra has located the
problem as one that violates the liberty and dignity of individuals, and something that
requires preventive, remedial and punitive measures.
The High Courts of Punjab and Haryana and Madras have laid down guidelines to the police
on creating special cells and 24-hour helplines to provide assistance and protection to
young couples. The Supreme Court has now gone a step further and asked the police to
establish safe-houses for couples under threat. The direction asking police officers to try
and persuade khaps to desist from making illegal decisions may appear soft. But in the
same breath, the court has also empowered the police to prohibit such gatherings and
effect preventive arrests. How far it is feasible to videograph the proceedings of such
assemblies remains to be seen, but it may be a deterrent against any brazen flouting of the
law. The verdict is also notable for dealing with some points made often in defence of khap
panchayats, rejecting outright the claims that they were only engaged in raising awareness
about permissible marriages, including inter-caste and inter-faith ones, and against
sapinda and sagotra marriages. The court has rightly laid down that deciding what is
permitted and what is not is the job of civil courts. While these guidelines, if they are
adhered to, may have some salutary effect on society, the government should not remain
content with asking the States to implement these norms. It should expedite its own efforts
to bring in a comprehensive law to curb killings in the name of honour and to prohibit
interference in the matrimonial choices of individuals.
Spook - frighten; unnerve.


Out of favour: the love for Indian bonds

MARCH 29, 2018 00:02 IST
UPDATED: MARCH 28, 2018 23:09 IST

The bond rout is a warning as the Centre looks at ramping up spending ahead of

M ore people are losing their love for Indian bonds. Foreign investors have been net
sellers of over $1 billion in Indian debt this month, almost cancelling out inflows since the
beginning of the year. Domestic investors were already spooked by a widening fiscal deficit,
so foreign selling now has managed to add pressure on the market. The deserting of the
Indian market by foreign investors comes at a time when the Centre is looking at tapping
the bond market aggressively to finance its election-year spending. The yield on the
benchmark 10-year bond has risen by almost 100 basis points since late-July amid
lacklustre investor demand. The rise in yields is due to a variety of reasons that have pushed
both foreign and domestic investors to re-price Indian sovereign bonds. For one, the
government is expected to step up borrowing ahead of elections; in fact, the fiscal deficit
targets for the current as well as the coming fiscal year were revised upwards in the Budget.
This has fuelled market fears about a rise in inflation. Further, the public sector banks,
typically the biggest lenders to the government, have turned wary of lending. As the losses
on their bond portfolios mount, they have turned net sellers of sovereign bonds in 2018.
Another tailwind affecting bonds is the prospect of higher interest rates in the West, which
has made Indian bonds look a lot less lucrative in the eyes of foreign investors. The
weakening rupee, probably a reflection of higher domestic inflation and fund outflows in
search of yields, has added to selling pressure.

Given these pressing concerns, it is no surprise that Indian sovereign bonds have witnessed
a relief rally since news broke on March 26 that the Centre will trim its market borrowing
during the first half of the coming fiscal year. The yield on the 10-year Indian sovereign
bond has dropped by more than 20 basis points since that day. The Centre’s borrowing
target for April-September was cut to ₹2.88 lakh crore, which is about 48% of the total
budgeted borrowing for the year, in contrast to ₹3.72 lakh crore in the first half of this year.
Interestingly, first-half borrowing was more than 60% of the annual borrowing target in
each of the last two years. The government also announced a cut of ₹50,000 crore in the
total amount of market borrowings for the year, opting instead to dip into the National
Small Savings Fund to meet its funding needs. Cutting down on market borrowing is a
decision linked to the market’s ‘decision’ to punish the government for profligacy. The bond
rout should thus serve as a timely warning as it looks to ramp up spending ahead of
elections. Lastly, with the vacuum created by the state-run banks, it may be time for the
Reserve Bank of India to re-examine the rule limiting the role of foreign investors in the
bond market.

Testing exam: restoring trust in the CBSE exam process

MARCH 30, 2018 00:15 IST
UPDATED: MARCH 29, 2018 22:58 IST

The HRD Ministry must pull out all the stops to restore trust in the CBSE exam

T he Central Board of Secondary Education faces a serious erosion of credibility with

the leak of its annual examination question papers on Economics for Class 12 and
Mathematics for Class 10. Thousands of students are naturally frustrated that their best
shot at these papers has come to nought; they must now make another strenuous effort in
a re-examination. Clearly, the Ministry of Human Resource Development failed to assign
top priority to secrecy and integrity of the process, considering that its standard operating
procedure was easily breached, and the questions were circulated on instant messaging
platforms. Yet, the problem is not new. State board question papers have been leaked in the
past. When the HRD Ministry was asked in the Lok Sabha three years ago what it intended
to do to secure the CBSE Class 12 and 10 examinations, Smriti Irani, who was the Minister
then, asserted the inviolability of the process, since the question papers were sealed and
stored in secret places and released to authorised officials with a window of only a few
hours. In addition, the board has dedicated secrecy officers for each region. But the
protocol has failed, and HRD Minister Prakash Javadekar should conduct a thorough
inquiry to get at the truth and initiate remedial steps without delay. One of the options is
to institute a National Testing Agency, although it was originally supposed to take charge
of entrance examinations in the first phase. State school boards also need help to reform
A major leak such as the one that has hit the CBSE raises a question often debated in
academic circles: is a high-stakes test the best option? To some sociologists, the use of a
quantitative indicator with rising importance for social decision-making makes it more
vulnerable to corruption pressures, and distorts and undermines the very processes it is
intended to monitor. That seems to be an apt description of what has taken place. Today,
what is needed is a credible testing method to assess a student’s aptitude and learning. But
the answer may lie not in one all-important examination, but in multiple assessments
that achieve the same goal. Such an approach will end the scramble for high scores in a
definitive board examination, and the exam stress that the government has been trying to
alleviate. It will also limit the fallout of a leak. These and other options need to be debated
by academic experts. More immediately, the CBSE has to restore faith in its processes. The
board went into denial mode when the leaks were first reported, but subsequently decided
to acknowledge the problem and ordered a fresh examination in the two subjects. In the
current scheme, the annual exercise is all-important to students. Everything should be
done to inspire total confidence in the board examinations.
Overture - an orchestral piece at the beginning of an opera, play, etc.
an introduction to something more substantial.
Hawkish - advocating an aggressive or warlike policy, especially in foreign affairs.


Kim in Beijing
MARCH 30, 2018 00:15 IST
UPDATED: MARCH 29, 2018 22:52 IST

His visit strategically brings China into North Korea’s hectic diplomatic calendar

T he timing of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s visit to China, his first foreign trip
after assuming power in 2011, is not lost on anyone. After travelling to Beijing this week in
an armoured train, he held talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping and re-emphasised his
commitment to the “denuclearisation” of the peninsula, weeks before his scheduled April
27 summit with South Korean President Moon Jae-in. In May, Mr. Kim and U.S. President
Donald Trump are expected to meet for a historic summit. By visiting Beijing now, Mr. Kim
is sending a clear message: that he is serious about his offer of talks. The visit has also
helped repair relations between Pyongyang and Beijing, which had come under some
strain. China was not particularly happy with the North’s nuclear tests. Mr. Xi was under
pressure from the West to exercise influence on Mr. Kim’s regime. And Beijing’s support
for stringent UN sanctions on North Korea that have cut its exports of coal, seafood and
other goods to China has dealt a blow to its already isolated economy. Mr. Kim reportedly
rejected overtures from Beijing and purged officials who had close ties with the Chinese.
But now, both leaders appear to have decided to set aside their differences.
China has historically played a role in inter-Korean relations. In 2000, Mr. Kim’s father and
predecessor, Kim Jong-il, had visited China shortly before a summit with South Korea. In
2003, China launched the Six-Party Talks aimed at peacefully resolving the North Korean
nuclear crisis, which eventually failed. Mr. Kim’s visit to Beijing has reinstated China’s
central role in talks over the Korean crisis, which both countries see as mutually
beneficial. For the Kim regime, China’s experience and guidance could come in handy
when it is preparing to engage with two of its biggest rivals. China, for its part, would not
like to be bypassed by the U.S. and the North in any diplomatic process. If the Kim regime’s
fundamental objective is its own survival, China’s interest lies in a peaceful resolution to
the crisis in a stable political environment in its neighbourhood. This enables convergence
of interest for both in the diplomatic process. But there is still much uncertainty over the
peace process. Mr. Trump may have agreed to meet Mr. Kim. But since then he has
inducted into his team two officials with hawkish views on North Korea — Mike Pompeo as
Secretary of State and John Bolton as National Security Adviser. As of now, it is anybody’s
guess what the U.S. would do next if the Trump-Kim summit fails to produce a
breakthrough. In such a volatile context, robust multilateral intervention would be
needed to stay the diplomatic course. The Xi-Kim meet could be a step in that direction if
China agrees to be a balancing force and a facilitator of talks between the North and the
Tableau - picture, portaryal, a group of models or motionless figures representing a scene from a story or from history
Swathes - a broad strip or area of something.
Fraught - (of a situation or course of action) filled with (something undesirable).


Exposing fault lines: the violence over Ram Navami

MARCH 31, 2018 00:02 IST
UPDATED: MARCH 30, 2018 23:42 IST

There must be a thorough inquiry into the violence over Ram Navami processions

I t has taken a voice of humanity to call out the manufactured nature of the political
blame game around the communal clashes over Ram Navami processions in West Bengal
and Bihar. In Asansol, the imam of a mosque who lost his teenage son to the clashes this
week announced that should anyone carry out a retaliatory attack, he would leave town. At
least four persons have died in the Raniganj-Asansol belt in West Bengal’s Paschim
Bardhaman district after a procession turned violent. The area remains tense, Internet
services are limited and prohibitory orders are in place. It is a shame that a sitting Union
Minister, Babul Supriyo, who represents Asansol in the Lok Sabha, not just tried to defy the
local administration, but also uttered inflammatory comments. Accounts about what
ignited the clashes vary, and it would be best to await the findings of the official inquiry. But
it is a reason for disquiet that ‘religious’ processions are becoming a pretext to force
communal polarisation in many States. In Rajasthan’s Jodhpur district, a tableau was taken
out on Ram Navami glorifying Shambhu Lal Raigar, currently in jail for hacking a man to
death and videographing the violence along with an anti-Muslim rant. In Bhagalpur in
Bihar this month, a religious procession organised by Sangh Parivar groups provoked
communal clashes — there is an FIR against Arijit Shashwat, son of Union Minister Ashwini
Choubey, for inciting violence. After Ram Navami, communal tension has spread to more
areas of the State, including Aurangabad, Samastipur and Nawada.
In all such situations, the responsibility of isolating areas and causes of violence and
tension is best assigned to the local administration, instead of State-level and national
politicians weighing in. However, the violence suggests a pattern that is worrying. While
the Raniganj-Asansol industrial belt is surprising territory for such clashes, the number of
incidents of communal violence in West Bengal has increased sharply over the past three
years. The violence in Bihar comes soon after the setback to the BJP-led National
Democratic Alliance in the recent by-elections, with some party leaders giving the result a
sectarian spin. Across swathes of north India, daily interactions between the majority and
minority communities have been rendered fraught with the probability of violence. The
majoritarian persuasion is carried out at the grassroots level, but the Sangh Parivar cannot
plead plausible deniability. In this context, the increasingly assertive Ram Navami and
other religious processions are drawing new fault lines. As the air gets politically charged in
the lead-up to the 2019 general elections, the burden on the law and order machinery
becomes that much more heavy — to pursue every incident of violence and incitement in
order to limit its potential to be used for further polarisation.

Billed for change: amendments to the National Medical

Council Bill
MARCH 31, 2018 00:02 IST
UPDATED: MARCH 30, 2018 23:55 IST

Amendments to the National Medical Council Bill don’t go far enough to address

T he Union Cabinet this week approved six out of the dozens of changes to the
contentious National Medical Commission (NMC) Bill that were suggested by a
Parliamentary Standing Committee earlier this month. These changes address some of the
loudest criticisms of the Bill. Among them, the final year MBBS exam is now merged with an
exit exam for doctors, and a contentious bridge course for AYUSH (Ayurveda, Yoga and
Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha, Homeopathy) practitioners has been axed. Health-care experts
had recommended other modifications, which the Cabinet ignored. For example, despite the
Cabinet’s amendments, the NMC, the regulatory body that will replace the Medical Council
of India, will be heavily controlled by the government. Its members are to be picked by a
search committee headed by the Cabinet Secretary, while the Central government is to be
the appellate body for those aggrieved by the NMC’s decisions. The parliamentary
committee had batted for an independent appellate body. The amendments cleared by the
Cabinet also increase State representation in the NMC from three part-time members to six,
in what seems like a gesture to please the States. Contrast this with the parliamentary
committee’s recommendation to include 10 State representatives, given India’s vastness.
Another amendment that doesn’t go far enough is the decision to raise the proportion of
private college seats for which fees will be regulated from 40% to 50%. The fees for
unregulated seats could then skyrocket, pushing poorer medical aspirants out of the system.

Despite these deficiencies, if passed by Parliament, the legislation will mark a new era for
medical education in India. The next step will be to design rules and regulations that
capture the intent of this law. This itself will be a massive challenge. How, for one, will the
logistical difficulty of conducting a common final year MBBS examination across the
country be overcome? Multiple-choice questions are easy to administer, but testing the
range of theoretical knowledge and practical skills expected of medical graduates is more
difficult. Throw in the enormous inter-State variations in medical education across India,
and the challenge is obvious. Lawmakers will have to tackle this gigantic task in a slow and
phased manner. Another concern is that under the new amendments States now have the
freedom to implement an AYUSH bridge course, even if no longer mandatory. How will the
Centre ensure the quality of such courses to prevent a new set of poorly trained doctors from
emerging? The coming days may see many more protests against the NMC Bill, perhaps
delaying its passage and prompting further discussion. For a Bill that marks the first major
reform in medical education since 1956, such an extended debate is not a bad thing.