GS: 2


International relations:

Unseemly spat (The Hindu Editorial)

Context

India and Pakistan must step back from the accusatory exchange over the Jadhav reunion

Further Deterioration

The meeting in Islamabad between former naval commander Kulbhushan Jadhav and his family should have been a sign that India and Pakistan are able to adhere to internationally accepted norms in dealing with officers accused of espionage

Instead, Mr. Jadhav’s meeting with his mother and his wife has led quickly to an unseemly spat, with fears that bilateral ties could now deteriorate further

Reason to Complain

India has reason to complain on several counts

  • First, it took months for Pakistan to allow the meeting after Pakistan conducted a secret military court trial of Mr. Jadhav on terrorism and spying charges, which seemed a sham
  • India had to take its case for consular access to the International Court of Justice for Pakistan to be made to pause the process, and give a commitment that Mr. Jadhav’s execution sentence would be on hold pending a decision
  • Second, having accepted the visit, Pakistan’s Foreign Office turned a personal, humanitarian meeting into a media circus, with photographs of the meeting and a prepared video statement from Mr. Jadhav thanking the Pakistani government released
  • A gaggle of hostile journalists hurled undignified questions at the women. Pakistan would have been expected to use the visit to showcase its “humanitarian gesture”, but its conduct of the Jadhav reunion was crass.

India’s statement needs scrutiny as well

India’s statement reacting to Pakistan’s actions bears closer scrutiny as well

  • To have objected to the frisking, change of attire and removal of the mangalsutra necklace, bindi, and so on obscures other, more egregious actions that India could rightfully have taken up

As per the norm

  • Most prison manuals in India mandate the removal of all metal objects and most accessories, while several prisoner-family meetings around the world take place across glass screens, especially when they involve terror suspects.
  • References to Pakistan’s “religious and cultural insensitivity” needlessly give the episode a denominational tinge

Should have summoned the Pakistani High Commisioner

Instead, India should have made its objections on the other procedural blunders from their understanding known, but by summoning the relevant Pakistani diplomat to South Block

Only Diplomacy will save the day

  • Going forward, India and Pakistan should ensure that their exchanges on Mr. Jadhav are conducted through quiet diplomacy
  • If the object is to save him from an unfair trial and sentencing, where a coerced confession and dual passports appear to be the only evidence against him, then it is in India’s interests to convince Pakistan and the world of the benefits of doing so
  • Backed in a corner on several counts from other countries on the issue of terrorism, Pakistan may well be persuaded of the inhumanity, injustice, and imprudence of carrying out Mr. Jadhav’s sentence — but it will need a face-saver which can only be found through reasoned diplomacy

Conclusion

When a man’s life hangs in the balance, political point-scoring, especially at this stage, can be counterproductive.

Out at sea (The Hindu Editorial)

Context

India should remain a balancing power, and anchored in the Indian Ocean

India’s emergence recognised in the NSS

In its National Security Strategy (NSS), the U.S. has called China a “challenger” and “rival” while welcoming India’s emergence as a “leading global power and stronger strategic and defence partner”, and declared that it seeks to increase ‘Quadrilateral’ cooperation with Japan, Australia, and India.

Increase in Quad cooperation

The NSS also states that the U.S. would support India’s growing relationships throughout the region

New Delhi should be cautious

While the broader emphasis on improving the partnership is welcome, policy-makers in New Delhi should be cautious on two counts

  • One, India should be wary of any attempts at being pitted as a front in the U.S.’s efforts to check China’s rise
  • Two, while the notion of the Indo-Pacific sounds grandiose and enticing, India must not forget that its primary area of concern is the Indian Ocean Region (IOR). Securing its position here is vital before venturing elsewhere.

India should remain a balancing power

  • As its stature in global politics increases, it is in the nation’s as well as global interest that India remains a balancing power.
  • For instance, India’s vote in the UN General Assembly over Jerusalem should be seen in line with a “rules-based world order.”

India should look to check the Chinese expansion

  • At the same time, there is no question that India should hedge against the rapid expansion of Chinese presence in the IOR
  • This is further underscored by recent acknowledgment by the People’s Liberation Army that it is “planning to explore the possibility of more foreign military outposts in Africa, West Asia and other areas.”

IOR should remain the focus for India

  • For India, geographically the area of concern, and so the area of focus, should remain the IOR, stretching from the Gulf of Aden to the Strait of Malacca
  • While reiterating its commitment to upholding the established laws of the global commons, New Delhi should not go adrift in the larger Indo-Pacific
  • As more powers make inroads into this strategically crucial space, India must consolidate its position and not expect others to do its job, for it would only mean ceding space in the long run.

The steps for doing so

There are two ways of doing this —

Beefing up Indian capacity and securing interests and then expanding partnerships to fill voids.

Capacity building in our own backyard

The tags of net security provider and leading global power would mean nothing if New Delhi cannot undertake capacity building in its own backyard, be it South Asia or the IOR.

India should lead the other countries not vice versa

  • While the offer of help from various countries to help expand India’s network in the region looks tempting, it actually reflects India’s failure to establish its primacy in the region.
  • Ideally, it should have been the other way round: India guiding outside powers in its backyard. In this context, it is imperative for policy-makers in New Delhi to conduct a reality check on relations with our neighbours.

Not at the expense of neighbors

  • Over the last couple of months, there have been hectic parleys with various nations in various formats — quadrilateral, trilateral, etc. But it cannot be at the expense of the neighbours.
  • While being part of various groupings is important, it is imperative that they are in line with our interests

More clarity needed on the Quad

That is where more clarity is required on the recently resurrected Quad. Except India, for the other three the primary focus is the Pacific Ocean, especially the South China Sea.

Key initiatives

At the same time, some recent initiatives illustrate the way forward for India.

India and Singapore

  • Last month, India and Singapore concluded an overarching bilateral agreement for naval cooperation
  • Besides being only India’s second bilateral logistics arrangement, it gives it access to the Changi naval base at the mouth of the Strait of Malacca

Joint Multilateral exercises

With Singapore’s assistance, India is also working out modalities for joint multilateral exercises with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)

Logistics agreement with other countries

  • India is also negotiating similar logistics agreements with several other countries.
  • These developments show the way forward for India to engage with like-minded countries in the region without getting entangled in groupings which are seen as being targeted or military in nature.

Goa Maritime Enclave

  • Another initiative which fits the bill is the Goa Maritime Conclave hosted by the Indian navy last month where Navy Chiefs and maritime heads of 10 Indian Ocean littoral states brainstormed on ways to improve cooperation in the region
  • It is an India-led initiative where the navy has offered to share information of maritime movement in real-time.
  • This is the template for India to take forward to build its primacy in the IOR before venturing into adjacent waters while also making sure that its interests are taken heed of while getting into various groupings and not end up doing someone else’s bidding.

Securing net neutrality (The Hindu Opinion)

Context

Net neutrality is at the core of an open Internet that does not allow for content discrimination by ISPs.

Activists in India need to be on guard to prevent any emulation of the U.S. government’s decision here

  • In less than a year, the Donald Trump presidency in the U.S. has administered quite a few body blows to many a signature achievement of his predecessor Barack Obama — for instance, the Iran nuclear deal and the Paris climate pact.
  • Another addition to this list must be the decision by the government agency, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), to remove regulations that have disallowed Internet service providers (ISPs) in the U.S. from throttling, blocking or speeding up Internet content for firms that pay for faster access for customers

Net Neutrality

  • Net neutrality is at the core of an open Internet that does not allow for content discrimination by ISPs
  • This principle has allowed the burgeoning of the Internet, from one as a means of communication and a destination for information to becoming a parallel, virtual universe that caters to social interactions, business, knowledge dissemination, and entertainment among other things
  • The provision for an open Internet where any website can be accessed at the same speeds that are paid for by the consumer, without discrimination by the ISP, allows for equal access to all web locations.

Net Neutrality built into the internet

Internet pioneers such as Vint Cerf who co-invented the TCP/IP network protocol, and World Wide Web inventor Tim Berners-Lee have also emphasised the centrality of the principle of net neutrality, asserting that its inviolability has been built into the structure of the Internet itself — in its layers and protocols that allow for seamless access to any networked device in the world irrespective of the nature of the physical infrastructure that has built the network.

Flawed arguments

The overturned regulations were part of an order, in 2015, by the FCC during the Obama-led administration that provided for “light-touch” regulations for broadband services and to preserve net-neutrality

The 2015 order had deemed that broadband content will be regulated as a service delivery much like phone services are.

  • These regulations have dis-incentivised ISPs from improving or increasing investment in Internet infrastructure
  • The Internet thrived before the net neutrality order and there is no reason for alarm

Both arguments are flawed.

Spent more on infrastructure

  • Broadband service providers in the U.S. have reportedly spent more on infrastructure after the order was passed in 2015, a fact that some telecommunication behemoths such as AT&T admitted to investors as well
  • Also, before the 2015 order, there were increasing instances of ISPs introducing faster lanes for various kinds of content, which brought the net neutrality debate to public attention in the U.S.

In India

Meanwhile, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India has, thankfully, recommended rules in favour of net neutrality in India. Activists here have their work cut out to see that there is no emulation of the U.S. government’s decision.

We are aware of Chinas maritime ambitions: India ( The Hindu)

Context

The Centre on Wednesday informed the Lok Sabha that it was aware of China’s ambition to emerge as a “maritime power” and indicated that India maintained a “close watch” on all developments that threatened its security.

Says it is always on the lookout for any threat to security

Issuing a statement on the immediate neighbourhood-related issues, Minister of State for External Affairs Gen. (Ret.) V.K. Singh expressed commitment to stay engaged with the neighbours but maintained that the onus for restarting bilateral dialogue lies with Pakistan.

Independent foreign policies

“India and China have, on several occasions, reiterated that, as large neighbours following independent foreign policies, the relationships pursued by India and China with other countries must not become a source of concern for each other. Both countries have agreed to display mutual respect and sensitivity to each other’s concerns and aspirations

On China’s FTA with Maldives

  • The statement is significant in view of China’s recently concluded Free Trade Agreement with the Maldives which has drawn India’s attention.
  • The government is aware of China’s stated objective of becoming a ‘maritime power’. As part of this strategy, China is developing ports and other infrastructure facilities in the littoral countries in the Indian Ocean region, including in the vicinity of India’s maritime boundary.

Neighbourhood ties not affected

Mr. Singh highlighted the “neighbourhood first” policy as a “continuous and ongoing process” and said India’s ties with its neighbours stood on their own “footing” and were not influenced by third party intervention.

Onus lies on Pakistan

Commenting on ties with Pakistan, he said, the “onus” of starting the Comprehensive Dialogue Process launched during the 2015 visit to Islamabad by External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, lies on Pakistan.

Israel takes India’s vote in its stride (The Hindu)

Context

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to India in a fortnight will focus on taking cooperation on “the double-T’s” of Technology, including on agriculture and water conservation and on (Counter) Terrorism to the “next level”, according to officials familiar with the planning of the visit.

Coming visit of Prime Minister Netanyahu will focus on technology, counter-terrorism

They also indicated that Israel’s unhappiness with India’s vote at the United Nations last week had been put behind by both countries in a “diplomatic” manner.

The UN Vote

Mr. Netanyahu’s visit comes close on the heels of India’s decision to vote for a resolution that criticised the United States for its shift on the status of Jerusalem and urged Israel to keep its commitments on talks for a two-state solution.

Israel unhappy but takes it in its stride

  • Officials didn’t deny that the Israeli government had lodged a protest with India about its vote, but indicated that India’s stand had to be seen in the larger context of its growing alignment with Israel on other issues, and in particular Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Israel in July 2017 as the first Indian Prime Minister there
  • As a result Israel had used “the right diplomatic channels” to express their sentiments, the sources said.

A balanced approach

India’s vote at the U.N. had been seen as move by the Modi government to affirm its traditional position on the Israel-Palestine peace process, as well as to strike a balance in ties between the two countries, especially ahead of an expected visit by Mr. Modi to Palestine in 2018.

Israel appreciates Bhutan

The Israeli government has also appreciated Bhutan for its decision to abstain from the vote, a departure from its normal stance that coordinates with India’s position.

The Visit

  • Mr. Netanyahu, who is expected to be in India on a four-day four-city tour that will take him to Agra, Ahmedabad and Mumbai, apart from his official meetings in Delhi which he will begin his visit with
  • On January 16, he will deliver the keynote address at the Ministry of External Affairs’ annual think tank event, the “Raisina Dialogue.” Mr. Netanyahu, who will be accompanied by his wife Sara Netanyahu, will also visit the Taj Mahal in Agra.

In Mumbai

In Mumbai, Mr. Netanyahu, whose delegation will include a big business team of about 75-100 companies, will engage with industrialists as well as the film industry

Movie Production

  • Last week, a visit to Israel by a delegation from ‘Bollywood’ explored the possibility of a joint film production
  • The team included director Imtiaz Ali and senior film producers, officials said.

Mumbai attacks

  • An evocative ceremony is also expected at Mumbai’s Chabad House, one of the sites of the Mumbai 26/11 terror attack where parents. Then an infant Moshe, whose parents were killed, and his nanny who saved him will fly in from Israel to join Mr. Netanyahu.

Accompanied by the Indian PM

Modi is also expected to accompany Mr. Netanyahu during much of the visit which will have its last stop in Gujarat.

Kabul- mumbai cargo service on (The Hindu) 

Context

India and Afghanistan on Wednesday launched an air freight corridor service connecting Kabul with Mumbai. Afghan Vice-President Sarwar Danish flagged off the first flight of the dedicated service from Kabul, six months after a similar corridor connected the city with Delhi.

Real, unimpeded connectivity for Afghan traders, says India envoy

India promised to hold exhibition for Afghan traders in Mumbai city and they want to create business chambers. 

Increase in Fruit Exports from Afghanistan

Deputy Chairman of the Afghanistan Chamber of Commerce and Industries (ACCI) Khan Jan Alokozay expressed hope that connectivity with India’s commercial capital would increase fruit exports from Afghanistan.

No Taxes

India is not imposing taxes on Afghan traders.

Imports by India

Afghan officials said since the launch of the corridor to New Delhi, fruits and medicines worth $20 million had been imported by India.

Important Bilateral Development

The air corridor marks an important bilateral development as it comes as Afghanistan joined Pakistan and China in a trilateral talk in Beijing which marked Kabul’s opening up to Islamabad.

Social issues:

The diagnostic lens (The Hindu Editorial)

Context

A paper in the Indian journal Current Science suggests an unexpected cause for the inflammatory brain disease — encephalitis — found in Malkangiri district of Odisha.

It’s time doctors updated their understanding of encephalitis

For many years, this recurring outbreak, which killed over 100 children last year, was thought to be due to the Japanese encephalitis (JE) virus.

Due to a Wild Bean: Bada Chakunda

Now researchers say it was likely due to the consumption of a wild bean, called Bada Chakunda, which grows freely in the region

Anthraquinones: Only harms Underfed Children

Like several natural toxins, the anthraquinones in the bean don’t harm healthy people, but cause fatal dysfunction of the liver, heart and brain in underfed children

In UP too

This finding draws on the researchers’ previous work in Uttar Pradesh’s Saharanpur district, where too a recurrent encephalitis outbreak was traced to this bean

More data might be needed

While more data may be needed to confirm this link, it is clear the Malkangiri scourge wasn’t JE.

Not what it seems to be

This is only the latest in a series of such investigations in which suspected pockets of JE turned out to be something else.

  • An illness around for three decades in U.P.’s Gorakhpur turned out, primarily, to be scrub typhus last year, while epidemics in Bihar’s Muzaffarpur were linked to lychee consumption, again among emaciated children
  • In all these cases, the suspicion of JE, though the epidemiology and symptoms didn’t match, delayed the discovery of the cause.

Why does this keep happening?

One answer is that JE was indeed the biggest cause of encephalitis in India for decades, and today the public health diagnostic machinery is built around this illness.

Various other causes of JE have emerged

But as JE vaccination rates have grown, incidence has shrunk, and a host of other causes of encephalitis, like dengue, scrub typhus, herpes simplex and the West Nile virus, have emerged to the forefront

Health systems still focussed on JE

Yet, investigating agencies such as the National Centre for Disease Control and the National Institute of Virology have persisted in focussing on JE.

Archaic format or reporting JE to the Govt

Another problem is the archaic format in which encephalitis is reported to the government. This too is a relic of the pre-JE-vaccination era

  • Under this format, if an encephalitis case cannot be confirmed as JE, doctors tag it as Acute Encephalitis Syndrome (AES), a term that has now crept into medical literature
  • But AES is no diagnosis, just a temporary label for different unnamed diseases
  • Classifying them all under one head gives doctors the false sense of security of having pinpointed the illness.

Time to update

The researchers behind the Malkangiri finding argue It is time for Indian investigators to update their understanding of encephalitis and look at outbreaks through a wider lens

  • If JE made 2,043 Indians sick this year, the mysterious AES is reported to have affected six times as many
  • A fixation with JE means the numerous patients in the second group may never get a diagnosis.

Indian Constitution and  Polity:

Cooperate on curbing online sex determination ads (The Hindu)

The Supreme Court has held that the government has a role in controlling the virtual world and has ordered major online search engines such as Google, Yahoo and Microsoft to co-operate with the Centre to make concrete suggestions against publication of online pre-natal sex determination ads rather than oppose any move to make the Internet safer.

Talk to search engines: SC tells Centre

A Bench led by Chief Justice Dipak Misra asked the Centre to brainstorm with the search engines, in the next six weeks, on ways to ensure that materials violating Indian laws prohibiting pre-natal sex determination were not hosted on websites.

Observations of the court

  • The apex court, while disposing of the PIL petition filed by petitioner Sabu Mathew George, observed that the government, its nodal agency and experts “shall take steps so that mandate of the Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (PCPNDT) Act, 1994 are not violated”.
  • It directed the representatives of search engines shall also take part in the meeting.

A very flawed law (The Hindu)

Context

The Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill 2017, which is set to be tabled in Parliament today, is riddled with so many internal contradictions that one is left wondering what purpose it would serve.

The proposed Bill criminalising instant talaq has no legal basis, and is riddled with contradictions

  • The stated intent of the Bill is “to protect the rights of married Muslim women and to prohibit divorce by pronouncing talaq by their husbands”.
  • Talaq here is defined as “talaq-e-biddat or any other similar form of talaq having the effect of instantaneous and irrevocable divorce”
  • The draft law goes on to declare, in Sections 3, 4 and 7, that the “pronouncement” of talaq-e-biddat by a person upon his wife in any form whatsoever “shall be void and illegal”, and whoever “pronounces” such a talaq “shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years and fine”, and the offence would be “cognizable and non-bailable”.

Gross misreading of the SC judgement

  • This amounts to a gross misreading of the August 2017 Supreme Court judgment which neutralised the legal effect of instant talaq and rendered it bad in law
  • In other words, the pronouncement of talaq-e-biddat does not dissolve the marriage, and this is the law of the land under Article 141.

Several contradictions

But the proposed Bill presumes that the “pronouncement” of talaq-e-biddat can instantaneously and irrevocably dissolve the marriage, and proceeds to “void” it in Section 3.

Questions arises

Nonetheless, this begs the question of how after rendering talaq-e-biddat inoperative in Section 3, its nugatory (of no value or importance) pronouncement can be considered a cognisable and non-bailable offence in Sections 4 and 7. Can a law criminalise an act after conceding that it does not result in a crime?

Most glaring contradiction

However, the most glaring internal contradiction is found in Sections 5 and 6 which discuss post-divorce issues such as a “subsistence allowance” for the woman upon whom instant talaq “is pronounced” and the “custody of her minor children” as if her marriage is dissolved by the mere pronouncement of talaq-e-biddat.

Question arises again

How could the authors of this Bill talk of post-divorce matters ignoring the fact that the pronouncement (instant talaq) has already been voided in Section 3 and cannot result in a divorce?

The Pakistan ordinance

With so many inconsistent provisions, the only option before the Centre is to withdraw the Bill immediately. Instead, in its place, it may consider something similar to Sections 7(1), (3), (4) and (5) of Pakistan’s Muslim Family Laws Ordinance, 1961

  • According to these clauses, ‘any man who wishes to divorce his wife shall, after the pronouncement of talaq in any form whatsoever, give the chairman of the state-appointed Union Council notice in writing of his having done so, with a copy submitted to the wife
  • Within 30 days of receipt of notice, the chairman should constitute an arbitration council that comprises himself and a representative of each of the parties, for the purpose of bringing about a reconciliation between the parties
  • And talaq shall not be effective until the expiration of 90 days from the day on which notice is delivered to the chairman
  • If the wife is pregnant at the time of the pronouncement, talaq shall not be effective until the termination of her pregnancy.

With a Reason

  • It may be noted here that the Muslim Family Laws Ordinance does prescribe, in Section 7(2), a simple imprisonment of one year. But this is not for the mere “pronouncement” of talaq, as envisaged in the Centre’s draft law
  • The husband will incur this punishment only when he pronounces talaq with an intention to divorce but fails to inform the chairman and the wife (in writing) about his pronouncement.

A case in the U.S.

As is obvious even in Pakistan, the mere pronouncement of talaq-e-biddat neither dissolves the marriage nor is it a cognisable offence.

  • This was proved beyond doubt in the interesting case of Tahira Naseer, a Pakistani citizen, decided by the ‘Court of Appeals of Virginia’, in August 2012
  • According to court records, Tahira was divorced by her husband, Nasir Mehmood Khan, through talaq-e-biddat, without any written intimation to the chairman of the Union Council.

Background of the case

The background to this case is as follows. In August 2000, Tahira married Nasir in Pakistan. Within a year, he told her three times that ‘he had divorced her pursuant to Islamic law’.

Broke off all contact with her husband without obtaining divorce legally

Believing that she was divorced, she returned to her parental home and broke off all contact with Nasir, considering him to be her former husband

Married again with a US resident

Then, in 2003, she married Hamid Mughal, who was a U.S. resident, in Pakistan, with another marriage ceremony, being held the next year in Fairfax County, Virginia, U.S

But ended the marriage in 2009

But this marriage too did not last long, and in November 2009, ended in them getting separated.

Husband discovers of the first marriage of his wife

While waiting to seek a legal divorce in Virginia, Hamid discovered that Tahira had been married earlier and not obtained a legal divorce in Pakistan.

Husband sought annulment on grounds of bigamy

He sought annulment of the marriage on grounds of bigamy which was granted by a U.S. trial court on the testimony of Ellahi, a Pakistani lawyer brought in by Hamid as an expert witness.

Tahira appealed against the verdict

Legal divorce necessary not just a religious one

Ellahi had testified that ‘in order to be divorced in Pakistan, a person had to obtain a legal divorce, not just a religious one’.

The Basis of the Bill is wrong

  • These facts and arguments make it clear that the Centre has no legal basis to justify the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill 2017.
  • It negates the recent Supreme Court ruling by unwittingly favouring the All India Muslim Personal Law Board’s medieval view that the pronouncement of talaq-e-biddat breaks the marriage, and, therefore, needs to criminalised

GS: 3


Environment:

Through the smog – screen (The Hindu)

Context

Delhi’s residents must take the blame for the city’s alarming pollution levels

A new low?

When Sri Lankan cricketers trooped out wearing pollution masks in the middle of a Test match at the Feroz Shah Kotla ground in Delhi, it heralded a new low for the city.

Regular affair

The desolation of smog plays out every year with immaculate regularity

Home based activism only

  • Anti-pollution activism has largely been home-based
  • WhatsApp has been preferred over popular venues like Ramlila Maidan or Jantar Mantar. People have, indeed, thronged the streets, but it was either for the Delhi marathon or to watch the Test match against the Lankans
  • Delhi has proved time and again — either by damaging the Yamuna floodplain to host a World Culture Festival, or bursting crackers in Diwali even after a court ban on its sale — entertainment comes first.

Blame game

  • Significant sections of recent reportage on Delhi’s air pollution have trained their guns on paddy stalk burning in Punjab and Haryana, positioning it as a key contributor to the crisis
  • Some have pinned the blame on the Green Revolution and the rampant use of tubewells which converted Punjab to a paddy-growing landscape

Punjab Preservation of Subsoil Water Act

  • Others have pointed at the recent success of the Punjab Preservation of Subsoil Water Act, 2009
  • Aiming at arresting Punjab’s falling groundwater tables, it banned farmers from transplanting rice in fields before June, so that they would not pump groundwater and rely more on the monsoon rains for their water supply

A Reaction

  • This allowed a window of barely 20 days for farmers to get their fields ready for sowing wheat after harvesting paddy
  • It’s pretty clear that actions of farmers are often a reaction to state policy, indicating lack of choice rather than a wilful act of environmental vandalism.

An IIT report

But the same cannot be said about the denizens of Delhi

Municipal Solid Waste burning and Vehicular Pollution

A 334-page India Institute of Technology (IIT) Kanpur report published in 2016 cites municipal solid waste burning and vehicular pollution as critical contributors of air pollution apart from crop residue burning

  • The report clearly states that if municipal solid waste burning was stopped and waste management upgraded, it would improve Delhi’s air quality by 100%
  • Control of vehicular pollution would do the same by 50% and stopping crop residue burning would ensure 90%
  • Delhi’s air remains polluted throughout the year because of municipal solid waste burning and vehicular pollution. Crop residue burning only tips the scales in favour of a catastrophe.

Rising private vehicles

  • Delhi, a city of 18.6 million, has approximately 10 million cars on its streets, owned by only 15%-20% of its population
  • The recent Supreme Court approval to bring 10,000 buses on the streets of Delhi by end of next year is a welcome step, but will not stem the rising tide of private vehicle ownership

Charity begins at home

Approximately 190-246 tonnes of municipal solid waste is burnt every day in Delhi

  • However, Delhiites and civic authorities have both assiduously avoided segregating waste at source.
  • Choice-less farmers in Punjab are being asked to manage 15 million tonnes of paddy stalk sustainably. But no one is asking residents of Delhi to do the simple thing of keeping two separate waste bins at home

Buying their way out of it

On the contrary, in an effort to protect themselves from a pollution crisis fuelled by their own consumption, Delhiites have tried to buy their way out of it

  • The sale of household air purifiers and steroidal inhalers has skyrocketed
  • The Delhi government is considering seeding clouds in order to get artificial rain to clean up Delhi’s air rather than inconvenience its citizenry with waste segregation measures.
  • The urban elite of Delhi has always succeeded in keeping attention away from their consumption.

Radical measures needed

  • In the first leg of Delhi’s clean air struggle almost two decades ago, the Supreme Court forced the government and the automotive industry to introduce new standards for fuel and emissions, but the successful shift to Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) was restricted to auto-rickshaws and public transport buses
  • In the second leg, the NASA satellite map with numerous vermilion spots marking crop-burning sites has again conveniently shifted media focus away from the city to the rural hinterland.

Reactionary measures

Diagnosis has been prioritised over action, and in spite of apps that give us daily updates to real-time dashboards spatially visualising our misery, there has been little tangible effort at addressing the internal contradictions of air pollution in Delhi.

Everyone blaming the poor farmers

In a paradox that truly defines India, farmers are being goaded by policies to provide food security, ensure groundwater conservation, and now, protect Delhi from pollution, while Delhi elites are required to do nothing

Failure of the Elected Representatives

The other irony is that Delhi’s environment is repeatedly being rescued by judicial interventions and not by its elected representatives

What next

Delhi needs radical policies — more car-free zones, increased taxation on sale of private vehicles, clampdown on illegal parking and making a garage a prerequisite for car purchase.

Conclusion

It is time that we acknowledge that smog is only a symptom. What Delhi suffers from in reality is irresponsible consumption and urban misgovernance.

Disaster management

Nuclear weapons at a glance  (The Hindu Opinion)

Context

Nuclear weapons

What is the status of nuclear weapons in 2017?

These are the lone category of weapons of mass destruction still to be outlawed, although the very first resolution of the UN General Assembly pledged was regarding their abolition

  • The good news, in the form of the adoption of a new UN treaty, prohibits the testing, production, acquisition and transfer of nuclear arms and seeks to punish states for the environmental and humanitarian consequences of all such activity.

Are the world’s nine official and unofficial Nuclear Weapons States (NWSs) on board?

No

  • All of them, and their allies, boycotted the treaty negotiations. They still swear by the deterrent value of nuclear weapons and defend their position citing North Korea’s nuclear belligerence, which they simultaneously denounce. The treaty provides a pathway for the NWSs to disarm and join the global ban.

How close is Pyongyang to having the dreaded weapon?

The government asserted that the underground explosion the country conducted in September, the sixth and most powerful since the 2006 detonation, was a hydrogen bomb

  • Intermediate stage of development: Experts view the claim with scepticism but there is near unanimity that the North Korean nuclear programme is at an intermediate stage of development
  • Hwasong -15: Similarly, the intercontinental ballistic missile Pyongyang launched in late November, named Hwasong-15, is believed to be bigger and more powerful than the devices tested previously. Its efficacy must be viewed against the Hwasong-14, fired earlier this year, capable of landing nuclear warheads on the U.S. mainland.

Can the world halt Pyongyang’s nuclear expansion?

  • Fresh round of sanctions: The UN Security Council imposed its latest round of sanctions on the regime of Kim Jong-un last week in a bid to force the dictator to give up his nuclear ambitions
  • Failed in the past: Whatever the effects of the punitive measures clamped in the past, they have singularly failed to achieve that objective
  • Freeze on the nuclear programme proposed Beijing and Moscow advocate a freeze on the country’s nuclear programme in exchange for the suspension of joint military exercises between the U.S. and South Korea. Washington has shot down the proposal, opting to mount international pressure on North Korea to give up nuclear arms altogether
  • Korea’s game plan: Conversely, the game plan of the Kim regime seems to first obtain recognition as an NWS, then enter negotiations and eventually win concessions from the crippling sanctions
  • Diplomatic action might succeed: As Washington confronts the reality of shrinking room for military action, the diplomatic argument could win the day

Economy:

CPEC extension is not targeted at any other country (The Hindu)

Context

Without naming India, China on Wednesday said that no country should exercise its influence to undermine the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), which could include Afghanistan as its new member

China’s position

Referring to Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s observations at the joint press conference with his counterparts from Pakistan and Afghanistan on Tuesday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hua Chunying said that

  • CPEC is not directed at any third party, and we hope to bring benefits to third parties and the whole region

Warning: But she warned that the trilateral dialogue “should not be influenced or disturbed by any country’s influence”

India’s position on CPEC

India opposes CPEC as it infringes on its sovereignty on account of its passage through Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK)

Chinese mediation

China’s mediation to normalise ties between Pakistan and Afghanistan includes interactions with Afghan and Pakistani clerics belonging to the two Ulema Councils, in order to prevent the spread of religious extremism

Govt. to borrow more; fiscal deficit may widen (The Hindu)

Context

The Centre has decided to borrow an additional ₹50,000 crore in the last three months of this financial year, a move that some economists said could result in the government missing its budgeted fiscal deficit target of 3.2% of GDP

Countermeasure

The additional borrowing, which would be done through government bonds, would, however, be offset by trimming T-Bills (treasury bills) from ₹86,203 crore to ₹25,006 crore

Review of borrowing programme

The borrowing programme of the Government of India has been reviewed, with RBI, and following decisions taken:

  1. The Government will trim down the T-Bills from present collections of ₹86,203 crore to ₹25,006 crore by March end, 2018
  2. The Government will raise additional market borrowings of ₹50,000 crore only in fiscal FY18 through dated government securities
  3. The Government will thus, between now and March 2018, not be raising any net additional borrowing (T-Bills will be run down by ₹61,203 crore and additional G-Sec borrowing will be ₹50,000 crore)

Impact

Any slippage from the fiscal deficit target this year, could have an indirect effect on the overall fiscal consolidation efforts

  • If this year’s fiscal deficit is 3.5% or higher, next year’s deficit should also stay close to that. Because, the government may not want to go for an aggressive consolidation in an election year since it needs to spend more to push growth, which is still picking up

SBI gets board nod to raise 8000 crore (The Hindu)

Context

The country’s largest lender SBI on Wednesday said its board had approved raising ₹8,000 crore through various sources, including masala bonds, to meet Basel III capital norms

Masala bonds

Masala bonds are rupee- denominated specialised debt instruments that can be floated in overseas markets only to raise capital.

Time duration

State Bank of India (SBI) said it had time till March 2018 to raise the funds.

Basel III norms

Banks in India have to comply with the global capital norms under Basel III by March 2019, three months later than the internationally-agreed time frame, by January 2019

  • Basel III is an internationally agreed set of measures developed by the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision in response to the financial crisis of 2007-09. The measures aim to strengthen the regulation, supervision and risk management of banks
  • Like all Basel Committee standards, Basel III standards are minimum requirements which apply to internationally active banks. Members are committed to implementing and applying standards in their jurisdictions within the time frame established by the Committee.
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