Download the compilation of all summaries of all the news articles here


GS: 2


International relations:

India, Myanmar seal deal (The Hindu)

Context

Rohingya crisis

What has happened?

India and Myanmar on Wednesday signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) aimed at developing Myanmar’s Rakhine state

Backdrop

The MoU comes in the backdrop of massive migration of Rohingya refugees from violence-wracked Rakhine to Bangladesh

MoU

The MoU is a government-to-government (G2G) agreement on long-term socio-economic development of Rakhine

Wait and watch: on U.S. security strategy (The Hindu Editorial)

Context

India has unequivocally welcomed U.S. President Donald Trump’s announcement of the National Security Strategy (NSS) for his country during his tenure.

India should be wary of being drawn too tightly into the U.S. security embrace

  • India has unequivocally welcomed U.S. President Donald Trump’s announcement of the National Security Strategy (NSS) for his country during his tenure
    To be sure, the positive words used in the international section of the 55-page strategy paper represent an affirmation of India’s stature, and acknowledge “India’s emergence as a leading global power”
  • It mentions plans to “encourage Indian economic assistance in the region”, and outlines U.S. support to India’s “leadership role in Indian Ocean security and throughout the broader region”

On China and Pakistan

As a priority. Mr. Trump’s views of China’s assault on the “sovereignty” of South Asian nations and of Pakistan’s continued support to terror groups are closely aligned with India’s concerns in the neighbourhood.

Appreciated by New Delhi

In its response, New Delhi has “appreciated the strategic importance” given to India as well as the common objectives that India and the U.S. now share.

These countries dismiss the NSS

Predictably, the five countries singled out by the U.S. for criticism have not been as warm in their response

China

China has accused the U.S. of pursuing what it calls a “cold war mentality and the zero-sum game”.

Russia

Russia has said that the strategy reeks of “imperialism” as the NSS accuses China and Russia of using their military might to deny America access to what it calls “critical commercial zones”.

Pakistan

Pakistan, Iran and North Korea have also been dismissive.

India should be wary

India must be mindful, therefore, that in welcoming the U.S.’s categorisations of its security threats, it doesn’t unthinkingly get swept into an American clinch

US perception changes with time

  • To begin with, the U.S. articulation of its perceived challenges has swung wildly over the past year of the Trump administration
  • It would be wise to await a stabilisation in Mr. Trump’s policies, or at least concrete action to back its words.
  • While the U.S. strategy deals with global concerns, the past year has seen American withdrawal from pacts ranging from the Trans-Pacific Partnership to the Paris agreement on climate change
  • A tough U.S. security strategy can only be realised through cogent policymaking — whether it is on Israel-Palestine, North Korea, Iran or Afghanistan, Mr. Trump has been publicly at odds with his key advisers

Conclusion

A watch-and-wait stance is still India’s best option to preserve the autonomous and pluralistic nature of its engagement in areas where the U.S. faces its greatest challenges.

Pak issues visas to Jadhav’s kin(The Hindu) 

Context

The  Pakistan High Commission in New Delhi on Wednesday issued visas to the wife and mother of alleged Indian spy Kulbhushan Jadhav to allow them to meet him on December 25, Foreign Office spokesman Dr Mohammad Faisal tweeted.

They will be allowed to meet him, accompanied by an Indian embassy official, on December 25

  • Earlier this month, Pakistan said that it would allow them to meet him on humanitarian grounds.
  • Islamabad also allowed them to be accompanied by an Indian embassy official as requested by New Delhi.
  • India went to the International Court of Justice against the conviction, and secured a stay on May 18. Pakistan earlier this week filed a counter-memorial in the ICJ

Lobbying intensifies for India’s UNGA vote on Jerusalem (The Hindu) 

Context

The draft resolution on the status of Jerusalem to be presented on Thursday expresses deep “regret” on the US’ stated position on Jerusalem and calls for “the final status of Jerusalem to be resolved through negotiations.”

Backdrop

International lobbying has intensified to get India on board for the session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) on Thursday where the biggest platform of the UN is likely to adopt a resolution in opposition to U.S. President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel

Arab League against the decision

The meeting of UNGA comes in the backdrop of a similar meeting of the Arab League which has asked for reversing of the decision even as Indian diplomats indicated that they will maintain that third parties do not decide Indian “foreign policy postures”.

India remains neutral

There was no indication from the MEA if India would support either party. 

Draft Resolution

The draft resolution on the status of Jerusalem to be presented on Thursday expresses deep “regret” on the US’ stated position on Jerusalem and calls for “the final status of Jerusalem to be resolved through negotiations.” A similar resolution was vetoed by the US at the UN Security Council although the US found itself isolated with all other members voting in favour

US watching closely the votes at UNGA

Using a sharp tone in a tweet after the UNSC vote, U.S. ambassador Nikki Haley indicated that the US will watch the individual votes in the UNGA closely. 

India should stay away from voting

  • Academic Prof P.R. Kumaraswamy, an expert on Israeli politics in JNU said that India should stay away from the voting to show its opposition to the “exclusivist” approach by both the Palestinian and the Israeli sides.
  • US declaration on Jerusalem can not become our problem. We have to point out that Jerusalem belongs to all its claimants and the claimants need to be reminded that they have repeatedly come up with exclusivist claims
  • India should not even abstain
  • Our representatives to the UN General Assembly should stay absent during the voting which will express our position effectively

Platform created to connect Chinese hardware with Indian software (The Hindu) 

Context

A new wave of Indian software  developers will soon be able to plug into China’s next wave of industrialisation, based on Artificial Intelligence and Internet of Things (IOT).

NASSCOM, in association with the Dalian government, has set up the initiative

  • Indian software developers face an existential threat if they don’t shift to high-value domains such as Artificial Intelligence and IOT.
  • Chinese companies specializing in hardware can be their perfect partners in moving up the value chain
  • China’s shift to Industry 4.0 will generate an explosive demand for IT-based automation
  • In turn, this would provide a major opportunity, especially for small and medium-sized Indian software companies, which possess cutting-edge technology, but are looking for suitable overseas partners for scaling up their product line.

SIDCOP

  • NASSCOM and the local government in Dalian have set up the Sino-Indian Digital Collaboration Plaza (SIDCOP) — a “match-making” platform that will connect small and medium-sized Indian software developers, with Chinese companies specialising in hardware.
  • Zeta-V Technology Solutions — a start-up with a local presence in Dalian — will operate the SIDCOP platform

No Language barriers

  • Our software will allow Indian companies listed on our platform to automatically find possible local partners in China. The language barrier has also been broken
  • Chinese companies can feed their requirements in mandarin, which will be automatically translated into English. Indian companies can do the reverse. 

Dalian BEST City

SIDCOP will be located in the brand new NASSCOM IT corridor within Dalian BEST City — a dedicated business park on the outskirts of Dalian city, in northeast China

Sri Lanka is keen to introduce an Aadhaar-like initiative (The Hindu)

Context

Sri Lanka will explore launching an application similar to the Unified Mobile Application for New age Governance (UMANG) in India, and it is in talks with New Delhi at the highest levels, said Minister of Telecommunication and Digital Infrastructure Harin Fernando.

Colombo also wishes to launch an app like UMANG

  • Sri Lanka is also keen on adopting a mass digital initiative like the Aadhaar in India
  • Union Minister for Electronics and Information Technology will undertake a two-day visit to the island next month for discussions on bilateral cooperation and possible Indian investment in the sector

Investment possibilities

  • Indians see a lot of potential in Sri Lanka, especially in the IT sector
  • The Sri Lankan government would soon form a new digital secretariat to streamline initiatives pertaining to information and technology.
  • In a separate initiative, the government has also been pushing for digitizing the national identity cards of Sri Lankans with biometrics, a move that has made privacy advocates in the country concerned.

Digital Connectivity

Recognising the importance of connectivity in digitisation, the government is focussing on creating at least 30,000 public wi-fi spots, including in 10,000 schools to enable students to use technology

SSB enhances security next to Doklam area (The Hindu)

Context

Political changes in Nepal and the growing Chinese influence in the neighbouring country are some of the major challenges for the Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB), the Central armed force deployed along the Nepal-Bhutan border.

 Plans to set up new border posts

The SSB said it was “more alert” and was enhancing its strength and establishing new border posts in Sikkim along the Bhutan frontier, next to the Doklam region that recently saw a standoff between Indian and Chinese forces.

Porous Nepal border

SSB Director General Rajni Kant Mishra, while interacting with journalists on the occasion of the force’s 54th Raising Day, shared a presentation on “operational challenges” which said 27% of pillars were missing along the Nepal border.

BoPs (border outposts)

  • The location and land for the new BoP that would come up in Yuksom in Sikkim had been cleared by the government and it should not be seen as a development coming in the aftermath of the Doklam standoff
  • With the establishment of the battalion headquarters and the BoP, almost 1,000 more troops would be deployed in the area 

In Donald Trump’s world (Indian Express)

Context

National Security Strategy of US

Author’s contention

For India, continuity in US policy towards the Subcontinent under Trump is welcome but Delhi must watch out for the implications of Trump’s determination to pare down America’s expansive internationalism that has been there since the end of the Second World War

Serious about “America First”

The conventional wisdom has been that Trump’s rhetoric on closing America’s borders, replacing free trade with fair trade, injecting greater reciprocity into US alliances and walking away from constraining multilateral agreements was just campaign rhetoric. After a year in office, the world knows that Trump is quite serious about putting “America First”

Adapting to uncertainty

Given America’s continuing weight in global affairs, adapting to the uncertainty that Trump generates is a major imperative for all of America’s interlocutors

  • Consider, for example, the NSS’s assertion that Russia has now become a threat. But Trump could not get himself to articulate that conclusion in the speech. In fact, he talked of cooperation with the Russian President, Vladimir Putin

Challenge for India

The policy challenge for Delhi is two-fold. One is to seize the opportunities that Trump is offering in countering terrorism and promoting peace and stability in Afghanistan and, more broadly, the Indo-Pacific. The other is to prepare for the unprecedented changes in America’s international relations under Trump

Being neighbourly (Indian Express)

Context

To fulfill ambitions in Indo-Pacific and beyond, India must work for a cohesive South Asia

SCAARCE?

  • The 32-year-old SAARC scarcely registers in our foreign policy debate, which is preoccupied with the exciting prospect of India’s role in the Indo-Pacific and beyond.
  • The South Asian agenda has been reduced, at least in public perception, to countering Pakistan and its terror proxies.
  • The Partition curtailed our territory and resources, severed trade and travel routes and was followed by horrendous violence

Akhand Bharat

  • With the centuries-old tradition of rulers of India dominating the geo-strategic space in South Asia, independent India sought to exclude external powers from the region
  • There was also a nostalgic reaction from a section that raised the slogan of Akhand Bharat — a concept ranging from the undoing of Partition to a loosely-defined cultural unity covering South Asia and beyond

Both these ideals were belied in subsequent years.

Practical Solutions tried

  • Former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee buried the idea of undoing Partition during his visit to Lahore in February 1999 by visiting Minar-e-Pakistan, which symbolises the creation of Pakistan
  • He also propounded the forward-looking approach of developing trust, confidence and creating “a solid structure of cooperation”
  • Manmohan Singh carried this thinking forward in presenting a vision of South Asia where, with the cooperation of all our neighbors, we move from poverty to prosperity, ignorance to knowledge and insecurity to lasting peace
  • Instead of pursuing the unrealistic goal of undoing Partition, this approach sought to leverage the large Indian economy in building mutually beneficial trade, economic and other linkages within South Asia.

Problems

  • Pakistan, though the largest obstacle to the emergence of a cohesive South Asia, is not the only one. An example is our inability so far to push through a sub-regional Motor Vehicle Agreement with Nepal, Bhutan and Bangladesh after Pakistan blocked a similar arrangement at the SAARC
  • Such hurdles are inherent in any process involving sovereign nations. A moribund SAARC is not in our interest. Sub-regional and other arrangements such as BIMSTEC, though valuable, are no substitute as these leave out our troublesome western periphery
  • If SAARC is a broken-down vehicle, we need another instrument, but cannot ignore or abandon the task of building a largely cohesive and stable periphery, which is essential to prevent meddling by external powers and realise our legitimate aspirations in the Indo-Pacific and beyond. 

Steps to take

We cannot dictate the actions of our neighbours. But we do need to pay more attention to certain aspects within our control

  • First, our ability to manage our region and stature in the world depend to a considerable degree upon economic success

The continent-sized Indian economy, growing at around 6 per cent, holds a tremendous attraction for our neighbours. Imagine its lure, even for business and industry in an otherwise hostile Pakistan, when it was growing at 8 to 10 per cent

  • Second, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj’s assurance in an address in December 2014 that realising its special responsibility in driving the locomotive of South Asian growth, India would “continue to institutionalise positive asymmetry in favour of our neighbours and allow all to benefit from our economy and market”, should be the leitmotif of our South Asia policies.
  • Third, all our neighbours have certain vested interests opposed to India and it becomes necessary once in a while to send a coercive message to them
    • This should, however, not alienate the constituencies that are well-disposed towards us. A jingoistic response, as opposed to discreet punitive action, to the provocations of the Pakistan security establishment and its proxies ends up consolidating opinion there in favour of the provocateurs
    • The wisdom of restricting transit for Nepal to punish the short-sighted actions of its governments is also questionable. The resulting hardship can turn the entire population against us
  • Fourth, relations with our South Asian neighbours are intertwined with the interests of our states and certain political constituencies. For example, the politics in Tamil Nadu over the Sri Lankan Tamils issue and our relationship with Pakistan has become a subject of electoral politics in recent years. In a democracy, such politics is unavoidable to an extent but carried out cynically, it could have unintended consequences
  • Fifth, the cost and time overruns that mar most of our projects at home due to cumbersome administrative and financial procedures also afflicts our projects in neighbouring countries. Instead of complaining against interlopers from outside the region, we need to focus on improving our project delivery
  • Lastly, the pull of our soft power is the strongest in South Asia because India remains the repository of nearly all linguistic, religious and cultural traditions of this region

Conclusion

India is the epitome of the South Asian diversity, which we have managed well in our vibrant democracy. Any faltering on this count would impair not only our South Asia project, but also our global ambitions.

Finding used copters for Kabul (The Hindu)

Context

In a bid to bolster Afghanistan’s air capabilities, India is considering buying several second-hand Russian-made Mi35s for the Afghan National Defence Security Forces (ANDSF) from other countries, a move that signals closer cooperation between New Delhi and Moscow on Afghanistan, Indian and Afghan officials confirmed to The Hindu.

India is planning to buy aircraft from other countries for Afghan forces

The proposal comes after a request from the Ghani government, including during a visit to Delhi by Afghanistan’s National Security Advisor Hanif Atmar in October, and follows several visits to Moscow by Indian officials to discuss the logistics 

Urgent need for the Copters

  • An Indian Defence Ministry team is also expected to travel to an East European country, possibly Serbia or Ukraine, that still operate Soviet-era aircraft, and an Afghan defence team is expected in Delhi “shortly” to follow up on the discussions
  • Officials also said that there was heightened urgency for the helicopter transaction, as all seven of the old Mi-25/35 attack helicopters and Cheetal utility helicopters transferred by New Delhi to Kabul in 2015-2016, have been grounded and need repairs. 

India Russia Cooperation to benefit Afghanistan

Asked about the proposal, Afghanistan’s Ambassador to India Shaida Mohammad Abdali said that he was “looking forward” to closer India-Russia cooperation that will benefit Afghanistan.

Indian Strategy for Afghanistan

The helicopters and the promise to repair hardware for the ANDSF is part of a larger strategic tightrope India is walking, given traditional ties with Russia, and increasingly close ties with the United States as a part of U.S. President Donald Trump’s South Asia policy.

The Method

Effectively the plan will see New Delhi cooperating with Russia on military support for Afghanistan, with the U.S. on development support, and with Iran on trade cooperation for goods to Afghanistan.

Other Measures for Afghanistan

  • India is already training military officers including a batch of women officers at its military academies, and Afghan officials said they are hopeful that India would scale up the training for more “strategic-level” officers, as well as training the Medical corps of the ANDSF.
  • Afghanistan is in the midst of a full transition from its old hardware, and Soviet–era generals, to U.S. hardware, and a next-generation NATO-model Army by 2022.

By 2019, the ANDSF will begin to receive the first of a total 159 American Black Hawk helicopters, and the Mi-35 (Hind) series India is procuring will be integral to anti-terror operations in the country in the interim period

Indian Constitution and Polity:

Cleaning up (The Hindu Editorial) 

Context

A permanent mechanism is needed to review laws and weed out the obsolete ones

A permanent mechanism is needed to review laws and weed out the obsolete ones

If law-making is a long and tedious process, it appears that unmaking existing laws is an equally arduous task 

Backdrop

In the latest round, 235 outdated Acts and nine pre-Independence Ordinances have been repealed

Periodic Review

These pieces of legislation may have been relevant and necessary at the time they were introduced, but in the absence of a periodic review they continue to burden the statutory corpus.

Changing Conditions

These laws are archaic mainly because the social, economic and legal conditions that required their enactment does not obtain today; they are also not in tune with the progress of democracy since Independence

Repealed Acts

Among the Acts repealed are the Prevention of Seditious Meetings Act, 1911, the Bengal Suppression of Terrorist Outrages (Supplementary) Act, 1932, and the Preventive Detention Act, 1950.

These need to be repealed too

The country still has a body of ‘anti-terror’ legislation as well as preventive detention laws. Although such laws remain in the statute books, these particular enactments are redundant. Other questionable legal provisions, for example, those on ‘sedition’ or exciting disaffection against the state, remain; so do ‘adultery’ and ‘sex against the order of nature’. Such obsolete concepts and notions that underlie law-making also require an overhaul. 

Acts were repealed in the past too

  • In a 2014 interim report, the first of four such reports on obsolete laws, the Law Commission noted that the panel had been identifying Acts for repeal in many of its reports in the past
  • Its 96th and 148th Reports recommended a good number of such laws. In 1998, the P.C. Jain Commission recommended the withdrawal of a large body of legislation, and also noted that as many as 253 Acts identified earlier for withdrawal still remained on the statute book
  • Nine ordinances issued by the Governor-General between 1941 and 1946, covering subjects such as war injuries, war gratuities and collective fines, are being removed from the statute book only now.

The problem

The problem with not removing archaic laws is that they could be invoked suddenly against unsuspecting and otherwise law-abiding citizens.

A welcome sign though

It is a welcome sign for good governance that the present government is updating and trimming the statute book.

Conclusion

Given that legislation is quite a prolific activity, especially in the State Assemblies, it would be advisable to have a permanent commission to review the existing body of law and identify those that require repeal as often as possible

Ryan student to be tried as an adult (The Hindu)

Context

The 16-year-old student of the Ryan International School, apprehended in connection with the murder of his schoolmate Pradhyuman Thakur, will be tried as an adult, the Juvenile Justice Board said here on Wednesday.

The Judgement

Pronouncing its judgment around noon, the court said the juvenile in conflict with the law would be produced before the sessions court on December 22.

Backdrop

The court had reserved its verdict on the application of Pradhyuman’s father, Barun Thakur, seeking the trial of the accused as an adult in the last hearing on December 15.

‘Historic order’

Mr. Thakur’s lawyer Sushil Tekriwal said it was a “historic” order and a “turning point” in the high-profile case.

What next?

The juvenile will now be produced before a sessions court and the judge will then assign the case to the relevant Child Sessions Court

No plan to take away J&K’s special status, says Centre (The Hindu) 

Context

The government informed Parliament on Wednesday that there was no proposal as of now for abolition of Articles 35A and 370 which give special status to Jammu and Kashmir.

Article 370 gives autonomous status to Jammu and Kashmir

The reply came in response to the question posed by Akali Dal MP Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa.

Core Idealogy of the BJP

Abrogation of Article 370, that gives autonomous status to Jammu and Kashmir, continues to be a part of the core ideology of the ruling BJP, but the party maintains that it does not have enough numbers in Parliament to do away with it.

Section 35A

In case of Section 35A, a writ petition was filed in the Supreme Court by an NGO seeking its abrogation.

Used for Discrimination

The PIL said the Jammu and Kashmir government, under the guise of Articles 35A and 370, was discriminating against non-residents who are debarred from buying properties, getting a government job or voting in the local elections.

Article 35A

Article 35A was added to the Constitution by a presidential order in 1954 and it empowers the State legislature to define the State’s “permanent residents” and their special rights and privileges.

GS:3

Economy:

Another tool of resolution (The Hindu)

Context

The Financial Resolution and Deposit Insurance Bill does not take away from the government’s implicit guarantee to depositors.

The Financial Resolution and Deposit Insurance Bill does not take away from the government’s implicit guarantee to depositors

The reason we need bank resolutions and also a special law to deal with the demise of a bank is simply because banks are special

Faith in the banking system

  • They have become a repository of public faith in the financial system
  • So long as consumers have unrestricted access to deposits, their faith in the banking system is maintained.
  • The fractional reserve system works on this faith

Failure of bank has repercussions

  • Thus, a failure of a bank has repercussions that go well beyond savings and lending; it has an impact on the systemic stability of a country
  • The rules for bankruptcy of a regular business cannot be applied to bank failures

The FRDI bill

The Financial Resolution and Deposit Insurance Bill is exactly that — an attempt to make the system more credible, less chaotic, and systematic in times when credibility is at risk, by treating banks differently from regular corporations

Risk-based monitoring

The Bill brings in a system of risk-based monitoring of financial institutions

Bail-in: Corporation that takes all decisions, and not the bank

At the stage of ‘critical’ risk to viability, when the proposed Resolution Corporation takes the decision to use a particular method of resolution which includes the tool of a ‘bail-in’, it is the Corporation that takes all decisions, and not the bank.

Consultation with the regulator

A bare reading of the relevant provisions of the Bill shows that the Resolution Corporation can use this tool only in consultation with the regulator

An exaggeration

It is an exaggeration to suggest that the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), along with the Resolution Corporation, will ‘bail-in’ depositor’s money to recapitalise the bank, especially when the Bill is designed to take away power from the failed financial institution at the stage of failure.

The Financial Crisis

  • This is exactly what happened during the global financial crisis, when tax-payer money was used to recapitalise the banking industry
  • Large financial institutions and their managements took unprecedented risks.
  • When the crisis hit and bankruptcy loomed close, the risk-takers were not penalised. Instead, governments across the world panicked and recapitalised using public money
  • ‘Bail-in’ was an attempt to break this cycle of moral hazard and distributional inequity associated with ad hoc government hand outs. 

Safeguards in the law

On the larger issue of a bail-in and the threat to depositor money, among the most ignored provisions of the Bill are the safeguards to the use of bail-in tool

  • The Bill makes it explicitly clear that only such liabilities may be cancelled where the liability/instrument contains a bail-in provision
  • It makes it abundantly clear that the Resolution Corporation will specify the liabilities to be bailed in. These will be specified in regulations that will be put up in the public domain before finalisation
  • Creditors/depositors will need to consent in advance to have their liabilities bailed-in
  • Even when liabilities are being bailed in, the Bill makes it incumbent upon the Resolution Corporation to follow the prescribed route. Here, uninsured depositors are placed higher over unsecured creditors and amounts due to the Central and State governments.
  • Lastly, the Bill gives aggrieved persons a right to be compensated by the Resolution Corporation if any of the safeguards have not been followed during a bail-in or in the conduct of any other resolution action.

Ex-Ante Consent

  • Before terming this a draconian law, it should be noted that the law provides for an ex-ante consent for certain liabilities to be bailed in
  • Some of the most developed resolution regimes in the world have a more stringent, mandatory regime in place

EU Bank Recovery and Resolution Directive and Single Resolution Mechanism

For instance, the EU Bank Recovery and Resolution Directive and Single Resolution Mechanism empowers authorities to impose mandatory restructuring of shareholder and creditor claims. This is not the case in India. 

Conclusion

Almost a decade later, when the rest of the world is finding ways to make its financial system more robust, we seem to be continuing with public discourse using incomplete information. The Bill simply adds another tool of resolution without taking away from the government’s implicit guarantee to depositors

No systemic risk due to bitcoins as yet: Tyagi (The Hindu) 

Context

Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) Chairman Ajay Tyagi said that while bitcoins could not be ignored, the cryptocurrency had so far not posed any systemic risk and the government has formed a panel to look into it.

Panel looking into virtual currency

  • Regulators, both domestic and global, have been closely watching the swift surge in the price of the virtual currency
  • Recently, the price of a bitcoin zoomed from $10,000 to more than $19,000 within a few days.
  • On the issue of bitcoins, the government is looking into it in consultation with the RBI and the SEBI.
  • The panel, also comprising finance and information technology ministries, is looking into what to do about it

RBI again issues warning

  • Currently, bitcoins do not come under the purview of any regulator in India though the RBI, on December 5, issued its third warning to investors on concerns relating to investing in bitcoins, reiterating concerns conveyed earlier in December 2013 and February 2017.
  • Last week, the I-Tdepartment had conducted surveys at many Indian start-ups that offer a platform to buy and sell bitcoins.

Should be no oversight on Blockchain

  • Such start-ups have seen a significant rise in the number of Indian individuals wanting to trade in the virtual currency
  • There should not be any regulatory oversight on blockchain technology, used to deal in cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin, ethereum and litecoin among others.

Rising crude oil prices, fiscal slippage a concern, says Patel (The Hindu) 

Context

Reserve Bank of India Governor Urjit Patel voiced concern over rising crude oil prices and fiscal slippage, during the meeting of the fifth bi-monthly monetary policy review held earlier this month.

Uncertainties persist on fiscal, external fronts: RBI Governor

  • The recent upturn in crude oil prices has emerged as a source of concern
  • Several uncertainties, especially on the fiscal and external fronts, persist. It is, therefore, important to be vigilant
  • The central bank released the minutes of the monetary policy committee meeting, on Wednesday.
  • RBI maintained status quo for the second straight meeting, which was voted by five out of six members.
  • The key policy rate or the repo rate is currently at 6%.

Fiscal slippage concerns linger on

  • While the RBI has maintained a neutral stance on interest rate, one of the members of the committee, said the time had come to be ready to go on the front foot.
  • Price pressures are no more confined to vegetables alone, as in previous readings; they are getting diffused across petroleum products, services, and into underlying inflation
  • There seems little scope for accommodation or for change of stance at the present juncture

The outlook for oil in 2018 (The Hindu)

Context

The price of oil rose this year as the supply-cut agreement signed by the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) in 2016 managed to survive despite a lot of speculation otherwise.

A bull market looks unlikely 

How did oil fare in 2017?

The price of oil rose this year as the supply-cut agreement signed by the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) in 2016 managed to survive despite a lot of speculation otherwise

Brent Crude Oil Trades

Brent crude oil trades at around $64 a barrel currently, which represents a gain of over 12% year to date, after dropping to an intra-year low of just below $45 in June

Price rise subtle this year

It is notable that the price rise this year looks quite subdued compared to the rally last year which saw prices almost double after dropping below $30 in January. Still, the current price of oil is far from the historic highs, of well over $100, that lasted until the latter half of 2014.

What is oil’s nemesis?

Like in the case of any other commodity, supply and demand determine the price of oil.

Shale Oil

On the supply side, shale oil producers in the United States, who killed a multi-year bull market in oil by ramping up global oil supply, are still the biggest threat to any significant rise in oil prices.

OPEC members cheating

  • Another problem that is likely to crop up as the price of oil slowly heads up north is the rising threat of OPEC members cheating on the supply-cut agreement
  • This could push down oil prices down as some rogue producers, wanting to exploit higher prices, will increase their investment and output. 

Demand side: Shrinking of world money supply

On the demand side, the shrinking of world money supply as central banks, particularly the U.S. Federal Reserve which supplies dollars used as currency in the oil market tighten monetary policy, will exert a downward pressure on the price of oil.

Where will oil go in 2018?

As 2017 draws to an end, analysts have come up with varied targets for oil prices in 2018. 

Lot depends on OPEC

Their estimates mainly depend on their judgment of whether OPEC will seize back control of the oil market. Last month, OPEC agreed to extend its supply-cut agreement until the end of 2018, which has led some analysts to stay bullish on oil

Other Agencies

Agencies such as the International Energy Agency and the U.S. Energy Information Administration, however, foresee shale production rising in 2018 and beyond. If so, this should cap any significant rise in oil prices unless there is an equally strong response from OPEC to cut supply. 

Secular bull Market unlikely

In all, a secular bull market in oil looks unlikely given the stiff resistance offered by U.S. shale producers, who have shown their ability to cut costs at quick notice and survive in a bearish environment, against OPEC. Geopolitical tensions, however, may offer OPEC some brief respite at times.

‘PSBs not meeting recap target’ (The Hindu)

Context

The Finance Ministry on Wednesday said it had not provided the entire amount towards capital infusion in public sector banks as most of them failed to meet the performance target.

Indradhanush Plan

  • As part of the Indradhanush Plan to revitalise state-owned lenders, the government had proposed to infuse Rs. 70,000 crore out of Budgetary Allocations in them. The plan envisaged Rs. 25,000 crore each in 2015-16 and 2016-17 and Rs. 10,000 crore each in 2017-18 and 2018-19.
  • So far, it has infused Rs. 51,858 crore in public sector banks (PSBs).
  • These include State Bank of India, Punjab National Bank, Canara Bank and Bank of India. 

Raise social security budget, Jaitley told (The Hindu)

Context

Sixty of India’s leading development economists wrote to Finance Minister Arun Jaitley on Wednesday asking for a big increase in the budget allocation for social security pensions and maternity entitlements.

Economists for higher widow pension

Sixty of India’s leading development economists wrote to Finance Minister Arun Jaitley on Wednesday asking for a big increase in the budget allocation for social security pensions and maternity entitlements.

‘Measly sum’

The Central Government’s contribution to old-age pensions under the National Old Age Pension Scheme (NOAPS) scheme has remained at a measly ₹200 per month since 2006

A missed opportunity

NOAPS is a good scheme (with low leakages and administrative costs) that reaches some of the poorest members of society

Suggestions

  • The economists, who included Jean Dreze, Dilip Abreu, and Dilip Mookherjee, said that the Central Government’s contribution should be immediately raised to at least ₹500, which would require an additional allocation of about ₹8,640 crore, based on the current NOAPS coverage of 2.4 crore pensioners.
  • Similarly, widow pensions should be raised from ₹300 per month to ₹500 at the very least,” they said. “This would cost just another ₹1,680 crore.”
  • “Maternity benefits of ₹6,000 per child are a legal entitlement of all Indian women (except those already covered in the formal sector) under the National Food Security Act 2013,” the letter added.
  • For more than three years, the central government did virtually nothing about this. On December 31, 2016, Prime Minister Narendra Modi finally announced that maternity benefits would be provided very soon. One year later, however,
    • The new scheme framed for this purpose (Pradhan Mantri Matru Vandana Yojana) is yet to be operationalised,
    • The provision made for it in the Union Budget 2017-18 (₹2,700 crore) is barely one third of what is required based on NFSA norms; and
    • In flagrant violation of the Act, PMMVY restricts the benefits to ₹5,000 for just one child per woman.
  • The economists asked for the Union Budget of 2018-19 to provide for a full-fledged implementation of the maternity entitlements as per the National Food Security Act, which would require at least ₹8,000 crore, based on a 60:40 ratio for Centre and state contributions.

“Along with this, it is very important to streamline payment systems so that pensions and maternity benefits reach the recipients on time every month, e.g. by the 7th day of the month as directed by the Supreme Court in its order of November 28, 2001,” the letter said.

How the 2G controversy shaped telecom policy, impacted industry (Indian Express)

Context

Earlier this year, the Reserve Bank of India red-flagged the telecom industry and asked banks to review their exposure to the sector.

Revamp of Telecom Sector: Changes

  • The cancellation of telecom licences by the Supreme Court in 2012 in the 2G case prompted the key stakeholders — the government and telecom operators — to revamp the way the telecom sector functioned in India, especially how airwaves were offered to operators
  • While on the policy front, spectrum allocation started happening through auctions, for corporates, especially foreign players, the verdict forced many to cut back on their India exposure
  • Consequently, the verdict impacted the bank books, loans to telecom companies and infrastructure providers, comprising nearly 3% of the portfolios for lenders at that time.
  • While initially the industry expressed concern over the impact on foreign investment in India’s telecom market, analysts suggest that allocating spectrum at lower prices in fact opened the door to players who may not have been serious about rolling out networks at that point in time.

A Developed Telecom market

In 2012, from the pool of operators, 18 had their licences cancelled. As of date, 11 companies offer mobile services in the country, and if the proposed mergers and acquisitions go through, only five operators will remain — Bharti Airtel, Vodafone-Idea, Reliance Jio, BSNL and MTNL. This is in line with developed telecom markets where four or five companies dominate the sector

Artificial Demand

  • Mr Raja’s approach created an artificial demand for spectrum by keeping it under-priced. If the spectrum was priced closer to its real value, it would not attract so many players
  • Non-serious players would not have sought it

Allocation of airwaves at much lower prices

Bundling the spectrum with the licences and selling this on a first-come-first-served basis resulted in the allocation of airwaves at a much lower price than the market would have dictated — Rs 1,76,000 crore — as estimated by the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India.

The Problem is not the auction itself but the design

If demand exceeds supply, auctions are your best bet. The process of auction itself is not the issue, it is the design

Different ways of conducting the auction

There are many different ways of conducting the auction. For example, if the government said auction winners would have to make the payment within a week instead of 10 years, many companies would exercise caution. Similarly, if there was a penalty if the services aren’t rolled out within, say, two months of allocation, some players would have opted out

“The government also designed the auction with the primary focus of maximising revenues and not to speed up rollout of broadband or improve the quality of services. If you do that, then you increase the harm an auction can do. If instead, for example, the government had sought bids of how much revenues companies would share with it, there would have been less harm to service growth or consumers

Governments’ pursuit of higher revenues

The government’s pursuit of higher revenues through auctions, which is seen to be a direct result of the CAG’s observations on the loss of revenue through administrative allocation, has also resulted in spectrum becoming costlier, one of the factors cited by telecom players analysing the financial condition of these companies.

RBI red flagged the telecom industry earlier this year

Earlier this year, the Reserve Bank of India red-flagged the telecom industry and asked banks to review their exposure to the sector. An inter-ministerial group was formed, headed by DoT Secretary Aruna Sundararajan, to suggest measures for reducing financial stress in the sector

Environment:

‘2017 may be among top 3 hottest years’ (The Hindu)

Context

The year 2017 will likely be among the three warmest years on global record, according to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO).

U.N. agency warns of long-term trend

  • The first 11 months of 2017 were the third warmest on record, behind 2016 and 2015, with much-warmer-than-average conditions engulfing much of the world’s land and ocean surfaces, researchers said.
  • Arctic and Antarctic sea ice coverage remain at near record lows.
  • 2017 may also be the warmest year without an El Nino — a climate phenomenon that causes global temperatures to shoot up.

ECMWF

Data from NASA and the European Centre for Medium Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF) shows that the past meteorological year (December 2016 to November 2017) is the second warmest on record.

Socio-economic impact

Along with rising temperatures, we are seeing more extreme weather with huge socio-economic impacts

Combining Datasets

WMO will combine datasets from U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS), and the Met Office Hadley Centre and Climatic Research Unit in the U.K. for a consolidated temperature ranking for 2017.

Varying rankings

According to NOAA, the month of November was the fifth warmest on record, whilst NASA and ECMWF Copernicus Climate Change Service both said it was the third warmest.

But warmer than average

During November 2017, warmer-than-average temperatures dominated across much of the world’s land and ocean surfaces, with the most notable temperature departures from average across the Northern Hemisphere

2 degrees variation

Parts of the western contiguous U.S., northern Canada, northern and western Alaska, western Asia and far eastern Russia had temperature departures from average that were 2.0 degrees Celsius or greater, according to NOAA.

Rapid Change in temperatures: Algorithm disqualifies itself

  • As an indication of swift regional climate change in and near the Arctic, the average temperature observed at the weather station has now changed so rapidly that it triggered an algorithm designed to detect artificial changes in a station’s instrumentation or environment and disqualified itself from the NCEI Alaskan temperature analysis
  • The omission was noticed by the National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI), which realised that data from Reykjavik, Alaska had been missing for all of 2017 and the last few months of 2016.

Reconsider the Rules: on 2017 Wetland Rules (The Hindu) 

Context

The 2017 Wetland Rules limit monitoring and omit important wetland types

Backdrop

Earlier this year, a judgment by the Uttarakhand High Court, stating that Ganga and Yamuna rivers are “living entities”, captured the national imagination

Policy Transition

  • Wetlands, the other major water-based ecosystem apart from rivers, are at a moment of policy transition in the country
  • This year, a new legal framework for wetlands was passed, the Wetland (Conservation and Management) Rules, 2017, replacing the earlier Rules of 2010.
  • Also this year, the Supreme Court passed an order directing States to identify wetlands in the country within a stipulated timeframe.

Problematic Changes

In the 2010 Rules, some related criteria were made explicit, such as natural beauty, ecological sensitivity, genetic diversity, historical value, etc. These have been omitted in the 2017 Rules. There are a few reasons why this is problematic.

Reasons

  • First, there is multiple interest around wetlands.
  • Multiple interests also have governance needs, and this makes it absolutely necessary to identify and map these multiple uses
  • Second, it is crucial to identify ecological criteria so that the wetlands’ character can be maintained. The key to wetland conservation is not just understanding regimes of multiple use — but conserving or managing the integrity of the wetland ecosystem
  • Finally, restriction of activities on wetlands will be done as per the principle of ‘wise use’, determined by the State wetland authority, Whether wise use will include maintaining ecological character remains to be seen

No Binding Rules

Under the new Rules, no authority to issue directions, which are binding in nature to desist from any activity detrimental to wetland conservation, has been prescribed to State wetland authorities.

Salt Pans

  • Salt pans are an example how one use (of making salt) has trumped the other (of environmental balance)
  • Salt pans as ‘wetlands’ have been omitted from the new Rules
  • They were identified as wetlands in the 2010 Rules, as they are often important sites of migratory birds and other forms of biodiversity
  • The omission in the 2017 Rules suggests that while saltpans do exist as wetlands, they do not require any conservation or ecological balance
  • The inference can also be that it would be acceptable to tip the environmental balance or integrity of such a wetland, which could lead to damage and pollution.

Going forward

The 2017 Wetland Rules have been criticised for doing away with strong wetland monitoring systems and omitting important wetland types

At the same time, the Supreme Court order directs States to come forward and notify wetlands. What then could be the way forward?

  • The 2010 and 2017 Rules for wetlands both emphasise that the ecological character of wetlands ought to be maintained for their conservation
  • ‘Ecological character’ refers to processes and components which make the wetland a particular, and sometimes unique, ecosystem. For example, as lagoons like Chilika (Odisha) and Pulicat (Tamil Nadu/Andhra Pradesh) are characterised by a mix of saline and fresh water, the flows of each type need to be maintained; river flood plains contain wetlands that require conservation so they can re-fuel the river with fish and other aquatic life during flooding.

The case of Deepor Beel

The issue of wetlands being multiple-use areas — and subsequently being abused due to clashes of interest — found centre-stage this year with the observations of the National Green Tribunal (NGT) in the case of Deepor Beel.

What?

  • Deepor Beel is a Ramsar site and a part of it is also wildlife sanctuary in Guwahati, Assam. (‘Ramsar Sites are designated because they meet the criteria for identifying wetlands of international importance.’)
  • This wetland harbours a wide variety of biodiversity, and also suffers from intense man-made pressure — the city’s municipal waste is dumped close to the Beel.
  • Large, meat-eating storks (Greater adjutant storks) are ironically found eating from the mountains of garbage at the site
  • Potential impacts of contamination or poisoning from the garbage are still unknown. This January, 26 storks died
  • The fact that Deepor Beel (Beel means water body) exists as a wetland does not prevent garbage dumping; this is a fate faced by many wetlands.

NGT’s Observations on Deepor Beel

The NGT’s observations on Deepor Beel are interesting and symptomatic of what is happening in several wetlands. In an inspection done by the judicial member of the Tribunal

  • It was noted that waste was being dumped “not beyond the site but within it,”
  • Demarcations are made by drying out areas or cutting off water sources”.
  • These are classic ways of killing a wetland and turning it from a wet to a dry ecosystem; or from a lake to a garbage dump or cesspool
  • The Tribunal has now asked for the “traditional” spread of the wetland.

Need to Conserve

Given all the modern uses of wetlands, or the use of the wetland only for its land, looking at traditional cartography may be one way to understand catchments of wetlands

It may also be a way of restoring some modicum of ecological character, identity or ‘rights’ to wetlands, as the river judgment suggested

There are challenges ahead in identifying wetlands – multiple and competing use is just one of them.

Conclusion

Understanding the historic spread and ecological character will be an important bulwark for the way forward. Setting clear governance systems would be the next. Without either, we are looking at a complete dilution of wetlands in the country.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Did you like what you read?

Enter your email address below to get all our updates in your inbox the moment it is published. Once you enter your email address, you will be subscribed immediately.


We do not spam you, so you can easily unsubscribe anytime, by clicking on unsubscribe link in the email.