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GS: 2


International relations:

Visa heartache (The Hindu Editorial)

Context

The United States’ H-1B visa has for decades been a source of nail-biting tension in India. The latest case in point was a scare that President Donald Trump’s administration was toying with the idea of new regulations that would restrict extension of the visa by those awaiting a green card

Fears of Indians being deported from the U.S. over the H-1B visa may be alarmist

Leaving aside technical reasons why such regulations may not take off, the contentious history of the H-1B visa should have given pause to alarmist claims between 500,000 and 750,000 Indians in the U.S. would have to “self-deport”

A Soft Target

Nevertheless, given the number of times that protectionist rhetoric has identified this visa category as a soft target, and the relatively high frequency of spikes in political pressure to protect American jobs, one would expect a more nuanced reaction than unbridled panic

Attempts to tighten the visa norms

  • In the past, even during the Obama administration, the bipartisan Comprehensive Immigration Reform plan called for the tightening of qualifying conditions for the H-1B visa
  • As recently as 2017, four bills were tabled in the U.S
  • Congress mooting new proposals to clamp down on H-1B visas
  • None came to fruition

Executive Order: only modest changes

The last salvo was Mr. Trump’s executive order in April, which was accompanied by much fist-banging but ultimately only called for modest changes, mainly a multi-agency study on what reforms are required.

Visa, a pathway to permanent residency

The apparently endless cycles of heartache over the H-1B visa stem from a fundamental reality: that the visa itself is designed to be a non-immigrant entry ticket into the U.S. economy, but over time it has metamorphosed into a virtual pathway to permanent residency and citizenship, particularly in the case of Indian nationals

The void is real

The most important reason for this is that most of these “speciality occupation” workers — primarily experts in fields such as IT, finance, accounting, and STEM subjects — fill a real void in the U.S. labour force

Giant tech firms rely on H-1B

It is not only Indian tech firms whose employees get awarded H-1B visas, but it is to a great extent a visa that Silicon Valley giants such as Microsoft, Intel, Amazon, Facebook and Qualcomm rely on for their staffing needs

Can’t hurt these global tech leaders

Thus, there is a self-limiting dimension to any reform that purports to slash H-1B allocations, so that no President or lawmaker would want to be seen as causing economic pain to the companies on whose coat-tails the U.S.’s reputation as a global tech leader rides

Back Channel lobbying

Indian policymakers, who appear to be aware of this subtle truth, should focus their efforts on quiet back-channel lobbying, and eschew knee-jerk reactions every time the “Buy American, Hire American” rhetoric echoes in Washington.

A difficult year (The Hindu Opinion)

Context

Besides the Rohingya crisis, Myanmar is under scrutiny on press freedoms and the Panglong peace process

Crucial 2018 for Myanmar

The year 2017 did not proceed favourably for either the civilian government or the military establishment, which continues to hold considerable power over state institutions.

International attention to the following issues:

Three important issues attracted the attention of the international community:

  • The threat to press freedom
  • The Rohingya refugee crisis
  • And the peace process with the country’s ethnic armed groups

Civilian government criticized severely

The civilian government led by the National League for Democracy (NLD), which came to power after winning a majority in the 2015 elections, attracted severe criticism for its failure to act on these issues more effectively.

Media Freedom threatened

As regards the first issue, evidence on the ground suggests that media freedom was threatened on several occasions

  • At least 11 journalists — both Myanmarese and foreign — were arrested
  • Two journalists working for the Turkish Radio and Television Corporation — Lau Hon Meng from Singapore and Mok Choy Lin from Malaysia — were arrested in late October, along with their local interpreter, AungNaingSoe, and driver, Hla Tin
  • They were charged under the country’s Anti-Aircraft Act and sentenced to two months in jail for trying to use a drone to record images of the Parliament building
  • They were subsequently released on December 29

The issue

The issue here is not restrictions placed on the use of drones but the limited media freedom and the civilian government’s reluctance or inability to act in this regard.

Reporting on Rakhine

Reuters reporters arrested

A more serious development has been the arrest of two Reuters reporters — Wa Lone and KyawSoeOo — on December 12

The accusation against them

The Ministry of Information accuses them of “illegally acquiring information with the intention of sharing it with foreign media”

Charges pressed

Charges have been pressed against them under the colonial-era Official Secrets Act and they face up to 14 years in prison

The documents they had: Mass grave at Inn Din

  • It is suspected that the documents given pertained to operations of security forces in the Rakhine State
  • The details reportedly are about the military’s investigation of a mass grave in a village called Inn Din, a mixed ethnic area, in Rakhine
  • Local newspapers have also reported that days after the arrest of the Reuters reporters, five ethnic Rakhine residents of Inn Din were detained on suspicion of giving them information.

UN and Amnesty International

The United Nations has called the crackdown in Rakhine as “ethnic cleansing” while Amnesty International has termed the operations as “crimes against humanity”

Myanmar military leadership in denial

Up until now, the gruesome accounts of the actions of the security forces are primarily coming from the Rohingya refugees who have fled to neighbouring Bangladesh. But despite the continuing international condemnation, the Myanmar military leadership denies any wrongdoing

Military’s view

They were only responding to attacks of the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army, which they officially label as terrorist.

Peace process with ethnic armed groups

  • The third important issue that made headlines was the country’s peace process with the ethnic armed groups
  • NLD leader Aung San Suu Kyi had said on assuming power that one of her government’s top priorities was to make peace with the groups.

Panglong conference

In May last year, the government convened the second session of the 21st Century Panglong Conference which brought together some 1,400 representatives from the government, the legislature, the military and ethnic armed organisations

Agreements on:

It discussed 41 points and was able to reach agreement on 37 of them

The groups agreed on recognising a ‘Union’ based on democracy and federalism, with the right to self-determination

The government agreed that no ethnic race would be given special privileges

It was also decided that States and regions would be allowed to write their own Constitutions.

Agreement yet to be reached:

However, an agreement is yet to be reached on two of the most critical outstanding issues: formation of a ‘federal army’ and ‘secession’

Military Dominance

The military, which has played a dominant role in the entire peace process, insists that there should be a single national army while the ethnic armed groups want to see a federal army, which would allow them to retain their respective armed forces.

Non secession

Concerning the issue of secession, while the ethnic armed groups are willing to subscribe to the principle of non-disintegration of the Union, they would not like to see the term ‘non-secession’ inserted into the Union Peace Accord

Concern

One other major concern is that out of the more than 20 armed groups, only eight have signed the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement

Way forward

The government is set to convene the third round of the Panglong Conference in the last week of January but it remains to be seen how much progress it can really make.

China to fund base in Afghanistan

Context

China will fund construction of an Afghan counterterrorism base in Badakshan province to block cross-border infiltration of the ethnic Uyghur militants

Counterterrosrim base in Badakshan to check cross-border infiltration

  • Fergana News Agency (FNA) has quoted Gen. Dawlat Waziri of the Afghan Defence Ministry as saying that China will provide financial support to build the base, whose precise location inside Badakshan, in northern Afghanistan, is yet to the determined.
  • Chinese side would cover all material and technical expenses for this base — weaponry, uniforms for soldiers, military equipment and everything else necessary for its functioning.
  • The decision to build the facility was taken during last month’s visit to China by Afghan Defence Minister Tariq Shah Bahrami.
  • According to China Military Online, a website affiliated with the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), Gen. Xu said during his meeting with Mr. Barhami that China was willing to “strengthen pragmatic cooperation in areas of military exchange and anti-terrorism, and safeguard the security of the two countries and the region, making contributions to the development of China-Afghanistan strategic partnership of cooperation”.

Entire northern region

FNA said that Mr. Bahrami and his Chinese counterpart, Gen. Chang Wanquan agreed that their counter-terrorism focus should not only be confined to Badakshan, but Afghanistan’s entire northern region.

Uyghur Militants

Afghan analysts said that the largest group of Uyghur militants already resides in Badakhshan, from where they can rapidly shift to China.

Backdrop

The Afghan Defence Minister’s visit follows the first meeting of the foreign ministers of China, Pakistan and Afghanistan last month. “China has been able to establish itself as honest broker in the eyes of the Afghans,” a source told The Hindu.

Indian Constitution and Polity:

BCI notice to MPs MLAs on legal practice

Context

The Bar Council of India, the country’s apex lawyers’ body, on Wednesday asked Members of Parliament and State Assembly legislators, who double up as advocates, to respond on why they should not be banned  from legal practice.

BCI notice to MPs, MLAs on legal practice

An expert committee of the Bar Council of India (BCI) is considering a plea filed by Supreme Court advocate AshwiniUpadhyay to ban lawmakers — Members of Parliament and Members of the State Legislative Assemblies — who practise as advocates, saying they are salaried public servants and cannot ride two horses at the same time.

Comments sought

  • “The Council has thought it just and proper to seek the comments of those MPs, MLAs or MLCs who are in legal practice, before taking any final decision in this matter,” the BCI said in a statement.
  • Over 500 lawmakers are practising as advocates in various courts, including the Supreme Court.
  • “It is a very important issue which may have farreaching effects. Therefore, it is necessary to invite the opinion, views and comments of the persons concerned,” the Bar council added.

Council meet on Jan 21

The Council is scheduled to meet on January 21 for taking a final decision on this crucial issue.

The three-member panel of top BCI office-bearers and advocates B.C. Thakur, R.G. Shah and D.P. Dhal is examining the provisions of the Advocates Act and the Bar Council of India Rules on the question

Drawing salary from CFI

Mr. Upadhyay has contended that MPs and MLAs draw their salaries from the Consolidated Fund of India, hence, are “employees of the State”

Rule 49

The BCI Rule 49 restricts a salaried employee from practising as advocate, the petition points out

Professional misconduct

Many senior advocates practising in the Supreme Court are also party politicians and sitting MPs. He contended that it amounted to “professional misconduct” that MLAs and MPs appear against the government.

Not by diktat alone (The Hindu Editiorial)

Context

Supreme Court does right to make playing of the national anthem before a film optional

Removed Coercive element

By making it optional for cinema halls to play the national anthem before every show, the Supreme Court has at last removed the coercive element it had unfortunately introduced by an interim order in November 2016

Over-reach

Laying down a judicial rule that the anthem must be played on certain occasions in specific places, in the absence of any statutory provision to this effect, was unnecessary and opened the court to charges of over-reach

Inter-ministerial committee to be set up

  • With the Centre saying this directive could be placed on hold, and that it would set up an inter-ministerial committee to recommend regulations for the presentation of the national anthem, the court has said it is not mandatory to play it in cinema halls
  • The panel will also suggest changes in the Prevention of Insults to National Honour Act, 1971, or in the Orders relating to the anthem issued from time to time.

‘No need to wear patriotism on our sleeves’

Justice D.Y. Chandrachud, one of the three judges on the Bench, had at an earlier hearing doubted the wisdom of asking patrons of cinema to visibly demonstrate their patriotism each time they entered a theatre to watch a film, remarking that there was no need for an Indian to “wear his patriotism on his sleeve”.

‘At what point would this stop then?’

He had asked at what point would such “moral policing” stop if it were to be prescribed that some kinds of apparel should not be worn at the movies as they could amount to showing disrespect to the national anthem

Effect of the court’s order: People had begun looking for signs of disrespect

The court’s order also had some unintended, but not unforeseen, consequences

The audience began looking for signs of ‘disrespect’ and there were reports of vigilantism, with people beaten up or harangued for not standing up.

Why single out cinema halls?

Even those who contend that “constitutional patriotism” and the demonstration of respect for the national anthem require the framing of such mandatory measures cannot explain why cinema houses should be singled out or why such rules shouldn’t apply to other halls or enclosures where meetings and performances take place.

Not disrespecting the symbols

This is not to suggest that symbols of national honour are undeserving of respect. Neither is it to question the idea that citizens must show due respect whenever the anthem is played or the flag is displayed

But

But as the Bench has pointed out, “the prescription of the place or occasion has to be made by the executive keeping in view the concept of fundamental duties provided under the Constitution and the law.”

No need for judicial direction or special emphasis in a mature democracy

In a mature democracy, there is really no need for any special emphasis, much less any judicial direction, on the occasion and manner in which citizens ought to display and demonstrate their patriotism. If rules are needed for the purpose, it is for Parliament to prescribe them by law

Conclusion

As subscribers to common democratic ideals, citizens should be presumed to have a natural respect for symbols of national honour, and should not have to be made unwilling participants in a coercive project.

Not a criminal act (The Hindu Opinion)

Context

Marriage is a civil contract — adultery or divorce should have only civil consequences

Offence of theft and adultery similar

There are striking similarities between the offence of ‘theft’ and ‘adultery’ under the Indian Penal Code. Encyclopedia of Diderot &d’Alembert, Vol. 1 (1751) also equated adultery with theft: “adultery is, after homicide, the most punishable of all crimes, because it is the most cruel of all thefts.”

History

In 1707, English Lord Chief Justice John Holt stated that a man having sexual relations with another man’s wife amounted to “the highest invasion of property.” Most societies abhor marital infidelity

Section 497 shall continue

Our Supreme Court too held that breaking a matrimonial home is no less serious a crime than breaking into a house and refused to strike down Section 497 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), under which men can be prosecuted for adultery.

Re-examination

On January 5, a three-judge bench headed by the Chief Justice of India agreed to re-examine the validity of criminalising adultery in the light of progress made by society

The gender argument

  • Under Section 497, a wife cannot prosecute her husband or his lover for violating the so-called sanctity of a matrimonial home as the husband is not her exclusive property but a husband and only a husband can prosecute his wife’s paramour under Section 198(2) of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973
  • Moreover, if the husband has an affair with an unmarried woman, divorcee or widow, an offence of adultery is not made out against anybody.

Special provision

  • In effect, Section 497 of the IPC punishes only the man for stealing another man’s property, i.e. his wife
  • The court treated Section 497 as a special provision made by the state in favour of women in exercise of its powers under Article 15(3) of the Constitution (Yusuf Aziz v. State of Bombay)
  • The court also upheld the validity of the adultery provision by saying only an ‘outsider’ is liable and this exemption is basically a “reverse discrimination in favour of women” (Revathi v. Union of India)
  • Since both husband and wife cannot prosecute each other, an archaic adultery law was held as constitutionally valid.

ManuSmriti

Manu justified heavy penalties for adultery, including “death punishment… provided the convict is not Brahmin.” What were the punishments prescribed for wives who violated conjugal fidelity?

Sympathetic towards women

The attitude towards erring wives, like the current law, was far more sympathetic than that towards unfaithful men

Islamic Law

  • Islamic law too prescribes 100 lashes for adultery, defining it in extremely narrow terms, i.e. actual intercourse outside marriage.
  • It also has put the impossible conditions of proof under which four witnesses of the act must testify
  • Moreover, if four witnesses do not testify, then the person making such an allegation against another person and witnesses who testified will be given 80 lashes and their evidence will never be accepted in future

But both men and women are to be punished under Hindu and Islamic law

Judaism and Christianity too punished adultery with capital punishment.

Why did the British exempt women while drafting the IPC?

  • In fact, the first Law Commission that drafted the IPC, and under Thomas Babington Macaulay, did not include adultery as a crime and preferred to have it only as a civil wrong
  • The second Law Commission headed by John Romilly did not agree with Macaulay but spared women from punishment for adultery due to their deplorable condition
  • Much water has flowed under the bridge since 1860, when the IPC came into force, with education, women empowerment and outlawing of polygamy

Across the world

  • Today, adultery is no more a criminal offence in most European countries
  • In the U.S., adultery is generally punished in some states only if committed habitually or with public notoriety
  • But in countries such as Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Pakistan, adultery continues to be a capital offence.

The 42nd report of the Law Commission (1971)

The 42nd report of the Law Commission (1971), with some hesitation, recommended retention of adultery provision as in its view, the time was not yet ripe to repeal it but it did recommend making the law gender neutral and reduction of punishment of imprisonment from five years to two years

In its 156th report, the Law Commission (1997) favoured the legislative initiative in reforming adultery law but, surprisingly, the commission preferred retention of five years imprisonment.

The Justice Malimath Committee (2003) too strongly favoured preservation of matrimonial sanctity and thus justified retention of a gender neutral adultery law

NCW

In 2006, the National Commission for Women recommended that adultery be decriminalised.

Right to Choice and Privacy

With individual autonomy and choices being recognised as an integral part of the right to privacy, there is no justification in retaining a dated adultery law.

A Civil contract

Marriage being a civil contract, its breach either in adultery or divorce, including triple talaq, should have only civil consequences as no legitimate state interest is involved here which may justify the use of the criminal justice system

Conclusion

The Supreme Court should remove adultery from the statute book as living together is already legal. Merely making it gender neutral will not suffice

Prescription for the future (The Hindu Opinion)

Context

The National Medical Commission Bill has to be fine-tuned, especially in planning for rural health care

The National Medical Commission Bill has to be fine-tuned, especially in planning for rural health care

The National Medical Commission Bill, aimed at reforming Indian medical education and practice, is in trouble. After countrywide protests by the Indian Medical Association, the Bill was referred by the Lok Sabha to a Parliamentary Standing Committee for a re-look. Whatever be the outcome of this exercise, the altered Bill is unlikely to please everyone.

Questions it seeks to address are knotty

  • This is because the questions it seeks to address are knotty, with no straightforward answers. First, how can India produce enough competent doctors to meet its evolving health-care challenges?
  • Second, how can it minimise opportunities for rent-seeking in medical education and practice? So poorly did India’s current medical regulator, the Medical Council of India (MCI), perform on both counts that policymakers believed the only way to redeem the body was to replace it.

MCI’s failures

The MCI’s failures are well known.

Allegations of bribery

For years, it was mired in allegations of bribery and going soft on unethical doctors

Obsolete medical curriculum

  • Under its stewardship, the medical curriculum grew obsolete, resulting in a cadre of MBBS doctors who frequently couldn’t perform basic procedures
  • This led to a rush among MBBS doctors to specialise, competing for a small number of post-graduation seats
  • Today, India neither has enough basic doctors, nor specialists.

NMC

Enter the National Medical Commission (NMC), intended by policymakers to be a dynamic regulator responsive to India’s needs, unlike the opaque MCI

Distribution of powers under NMC unlike MCI

In contrast with the MCI, which does everything from advising universities on curriculum to disciplining errant doctors, the NMC distributes powers among four autonomous boards — those for undergraduate education, postgraduate education, medical assessment and rating, and ethics and registration

Non doctors included

Also, unlike the MCI, the commission includes non-doctors like patient-rights advocates and ethicists, in line with the medical regulators of the U.K., Australia and Canada

These are all steps in the right direction.

Major shortcoming of the NMC bill

How it chooses the members of the new regulator

The reason for new electoral process in NMC

The authors of the NMC bill, a committee headed by ex-vice chairman of NitiAayog, ArvindPanagariya, argued that :

  • The electoral process through which MCI members were picked was fundamentally flawed, because conscientious doctors tended to avoid such elections
  • Because there was no bar on re-elections, this had created a revolving door through which the same group of members controlled the MCI for years.

Example

Sometime around 2008, Gujarati urologist Ketan Desai was elected MCI president, even though he had been prosecuted in the Delhi High Court for abusing power as president in 2001. Further, corruption charges against Dr. Desai and his team led to the MCI being disbanded in 2010.

The proposed solution: Selection by Central government

The NMC Bill’s solution to the pitfalls of the electoral process is for the central government to select most of the commission’s members

But now the scales tipped towards bureaucracy

But this would tip the scales towards bureaucracy, say experts. “The babudom is now extreme,” says Rama Baru, a health-policy researcher who served on the ethics committee of the MCI between 2012 and 2014

Close ties of private medical colleges with politicians

Such political hold on the commission is especially problematic, she adds, given the close ties that private medical colleges in southern India have with politicians

Solutions:

Should have limited term

Ms. Baru is in favour of more elected members in the commission, but with limited terms of office, so that corrupt members aren’t re-elected.

Independent body like UPSC to select its members

Another option to keep the NMC free from political influence is for an independent body like the Union Public Service Commission to select its members, says Sujatha K. Rao, a former Union Health Secretary

Example

Such a model is followed in the U.K., where the Professional Standards Authority oversees the selection of members to the General Medical Council

People selected should be of high integrity

Whatever route the NMC takes, it is critical that its members are professionals of high integrity, something that isn’t ensured in the current Bill. “Any law will succeed if it is implemented by good people. The best law, if implemented by corrupt people, can fail,” says Ms. Rao.

Shortage of doctors

  • The NMC Bill also misses an opportunity to plan for India’s rural health- care needs in the coming decades.
  • While it eases regulations to set up private medical colleges, a move that will hopefully produce more doctors, this measure isn’t enough

Not enough in rural India

As of today, India has one doctor for 1,700 people, compared to the WHO norm of 1:1,000. Most of these doctors are in urban regions, while close to 70% of Indians live in rural provinces. This gap isn’t going to close any time soon

Till 2029

A 2015 Parliamentary Standing Committee report mentioned that even if India were to add 100 medical colleges per year for five years, it would take till 2029 to achieve the WHO prescribed ratio.

Even in TN

Even in States like Tamil Nadu, which has successfully attracted doctors to rural primary health centres (PHCs), tribal regions like Sittilingi are underserved and rely heavily on informal health-care providers, says MeenakshiGautham, a health policy researcher at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical medicine.

Need of quick fixes now

This is why India must think of quicker fixes to the doctor shortage instead of waiting for MBBS doctors to fill the gap. “We can’t ask populations here to wait for ten years till we produce enough doctors. Neither can we wait for rural areas to become urbanised,” she reasons.

Training non-doctors: Quacks

Several sub-Saharan countries have successfully addressed this problem by training non-doctors in basic medicine and even surgery. Such non-doctors include nurses, or even informal health-care providers, often referred to as quacks

9 months of training led to marked improvement

A 2016 study published in Science magazine showed that nine months of training led to a marked improvement in the ability of informal providers in West Bengal to correctly manage chest-pain, respiratory distress and childhood diarrhoea

International organisations endorse such type of training for critical procedures also

International organisations like Médecins Sans Frontières and Red Cross have endorsed training programmes for non-doctors to carry out critical surgical procedures like caesarians and intestinal resections

Examples

  • Evidence from countries like Mozambique and Thailand shows that such training can be a safe, effective and cheap way to provide life-saving health care when no doctors are available
  • This is why even Chhattisgarh attempted to create a cadre of rural doctors in 2001, through a three-year programme

IMA opposed to such ideas

Even though the Indian Medical Association has strongly opposed such ideas, they cannot be off the table, given the evidence backing them

MBBS doctors not the best mode of health care delivery in rural India

Ms. Gautham says it is time to recognise that MBBS doctors may not be the best means of health-care delivery in isolated parts of rural India

The NMC Bill should, at the very least, include a provision to debate this idea.

The 1956 Indian Medical Council Act

The 1956 Indian Medical Council Act, under which the MCI in its current form came to life, set the agenda for nearly 60 years of medical education and practice

The NMC Bill could do the same for the next few decades

Conclusion

If policymakers do not address the many questions that health-care experts have raised over the Bill today, they will miss their chance at truly game-changing reform.


GS: 3


Economy:

In FDI push centre allows 49% foreign ownership in AI

Context

In FDI push, Centre allows 49% foreign ownership in AI. Easing of norms puts national carrier on par with other Indian airline companies

In FDI push, Centre allows 49% foreign ownership in AI

The Congress says foreign carriers cannot be allowed to take over Air India.

The Centre on Wednesday eased several foreign direct investment norms, including allowing overseas airlines to own up to 49% of Air India and permitting 100% FDI in single brand retail and construction development under the automatic route.

Conditions

The Union Cabinet allowed foreign airlines to invest up to 49% under the approval route in Air India, “subject to the conditions that: (i) foreign investment(s) in Air India, including that of foreign airline(s), shall not exceed 49% either directly or indirectly and (ii) substantial ownership and effective control of Air India shall continue to be vested in an Indian national.”

Interest from other Airlines

The move comes close on the heels of Singapore Airlines and Tata Group evincing interest in bidding for the debt-laden national carrier.

Present Policy

  • As per the present policy, foreign airlines are allowed to invest under the government approval route in the capital of Indian companies operating scheduled and non-scheduled air transport services, up to the limit of 49% of their paid-up capital.
  • However, this provision was not applicable to Air India. The government, therefore, decided to do away with this restriction.

More jobs

  • The changes to the FDI norms would trigger significant interest in the carrier from foreign airlines, KapilKaul, CEO, Indian subcontinent & Middle East, Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation (CAPA), said, adding that the actual terms of the offer and conditions attached would determine the level of participation in the bids
  • CAPA anticipates that the divestment would help spur more jobs and growth in Air India.

CAPA

  • CAPA India, in October 2017, recommended that the government exit Air India completely. “Any level of equity retention will deter investors due to concerns about the prospect of continued government interference post-privatisation,” it had said at the time
  • “No major Indian corporation from outside of aviation will invest in such a complex project without an experienced strategic partner. Allowing foreign airlines to participate will increase the number of interested bidders and the valuation.”

Opposition to the plans however

The government may, however, have to face opposition to its plans to divest stake in Air India.

Should be given a chance to revive

The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Transport, Tourism and Culture, in a draft report, is said to have described Air India as a “national pride” and urged that the airline be “given a chance for at least five years to revive.”

Congress denounced the decision

The Opposition on Wednesday denounced the Union Cabinet’s decision allowing 100% foreign direct investment in single-brand retail and opening up of Air India for foreign investment.

By doing away with the requirement of 30% sourcing through “Make in India” for singlebrand retail for five years, Prime Minister Narendra had exposed his “duplicity and doublespeak” on the issue.

Opposite stance

  • Foreign carriers cannot be allowed to take over the national carrier. You can allow equity participation. Clearly the government does not want to infuse funds.
  • The CPI(M) criticised the decision. “Having taken the decision to privatise Air India, the Modi government is now moving towards handing over Air India to a foreign airline,” party politburo statement said.
  • The UPA govt. was careful to keep Air India out of FDI

The map of rural deprivation (The Hindu Opinion)

Context

With the Union Budget to be presented on February 1, it is hoped that the Finance Minister will make a significantly higher allocation for investment in infrastructure. It is vital for addressing rural distress. The Socio Economic and Caste Census (SECC) informed us that ‘landlessness and dependence on manual casual labour for a livelihood are key deprivations facing rural families’, which make them far more vulnerable to impoverishment.

Based on indicators

  • The rural census, or SECC, mapped deprivation using seven indicators:
  • ‘households with a kuchha house;
  • without an adult member in working age;
  • headed by a woman and without an adult male in working age;
  • with a disabled member and without able-bodied adult;
  • of Scheduled Castes/Scheduled Tribes (SC/ST);
  • without literate adults over 25 years;
  • and the landless engaged in manual labour

Findings of the SECC

The more the number of parameters on which a household is deprived, the worse its extent of poverty

  • Nearly 30% have two deprivations, 13% have three. Only 0.01% suffer from all seven handicaps’
  • While 48.5% of all rural households suffer from at least one deprivation indicator, “landless households engaged in manual labour” are more vulnerable.
  • Nearly 54 million households are in the landless-labourer category; assuming that each such household has five members, that makes 250 million of the nearly 850-900 million rural population
  • This number is almost certainly an underestimate, since 84% of all those who even hold agricultural land are small and marginal farmers.
  • The intersection of any of the six other handicaps with “landless labour” makes it more acute
  • The SECC also said that ‘59% of households with kuchha houses are landless labourers; similarly, 55% of those with no literate adult above 25 years and 54% each of SC/ST households and female-headed households without adult male members are also landless households
  • At the same time, 47% households without an adult member of working age are landless labourers as are 45% of those with disabled members and no able-bodied adult members’.

Farmer distress

Along with landless families, small and marginal farmers are getting pauperised and more engaged in manual labour

Farm size dropping

The overall farm size, which has been dropping since the early 1970s, and down from the 2.25 hectares (ha) average to a 1.25 ha average in 2010, will continue to become even smaller

Incomes likely to fall

For these farmers, agricultural incomes are also likely to fall, hastening the exodus from agriculture.

Growing distress

In fact, farmer distress has been growing, with the past year witnessing farmers protesting on the streets in several States

NSS data

National Sample Survey (NSS) data show that there are two demographic groups which did reasonably well in labour market outcomes both in terms of job growth as well as wage growth between 2004-5 and 2011-12

  • These were the young who were getting educated at hitherto unheard of rates
  • And the older, poorly educated cohort of landless labour in agriculture, who saw construction work rise sharply.

The Question

However, the question is: does the economy have the capacity to create non-agricultural jobs for both groups whose numbers will grow over the next decade until 2030?

The Young remain in education

  • The young have been entering and remaining in education in unprecedented numbers for the last two decades
  • Hence, as a result, while the young joining the labour force has been just 2 million per annum between 2004-5 and 2015-16, from this point onwards, the numbers of the young will indeed grow significantly.

Construction employment

Employment in the construction sector increased 13 times during the past four decades, which led to its share in rural employment rising from 1.4% in 1972-73 to 10.7% in 2011-12

This sector absorbed 74% of the new jobs created in non-farm sectors in rural areas between 2004-05 and 2011-12

Construction boom

These trends indicate that rural areas witnessed a construction boom after 2004-05

  • One reason for the much higher growth in the number of rural workers in construction over the manufacturing or services sectors is that there are fewer skill and educational requirements in construction.

Unprecedented

Construction employment grew at a remarkable rate from 1999-2000 onwards. While it employed only 17 million in that year, the number jumped to 26 million by 2004-5. However, what happened after that was totally unprecedented

  • It grew to 51 million by 2011-12, which is a doubling in seven years or a tripling in 12 years from the turn of the millennium.
  • This was possible because of the sustained growth in investment in infrastructure, especially over the 11th Five Year Plan period (2007-12) of $100 billion per annum, two-thirds of which was public, and the remainder private
  • In addition, there was a real boom in real estate, residential and commercial, throughout the country. However, private investment is now much lower than earlier.

Illiterate in constructionrose in number

It is estimated from NSS and Labour Bureau data that the absolute number of those in construction who were illiterate was 11 million in 2004-5, but which rose to 19 million in 2011-12.

Slow growth now

Construction jobs are growing more slowly since 2011-12, as public investment has fallen. And with the rising non-performing assets of banks, private investment has fallen as well

The result: fewer workers have been leaving agriculture since 2011-12

From the 5 million leaving agriculture per annum between 2004-5 to 2011-12, the number is down to just over 1 million per annum between 2011-12 to 2015-16.

Hurting landless labour

This is hurting landless labour and small and marginal farmers the most, since their households had benefited the most from the tightening of the labour market that had ensued in rural and urban areas because of rising construction jobs

Rise in rural demand

Rural demand in particular has risen, raising consumer demand for simple manufactured goods, especially in the unorganised manufacturing sector, raising employment in those sectors especially in rural areas.

Sustained rural expenditure by the central government

  • The Union government has sustained rural development expenditure for the last two years, especially for rural roads, under the Pradhan Mantri Gram SadakYojana and rural housing under the Pradhan MantriAwasYojana (Urban)
  • The Surface Transport Ministry has also attempted to sustain public investment in infrastructure to generate construction jobs for growing surplus rural labour.

The budget should sustain this effort

The Budget for 2018-19 should sustain this public investment effort

  • The announcement that the government plans to borrow an additional ₹50,000 crore in this financial year, is welcome
  • Hopefully, the intention here is to raise public investment, especially for infrastructure investment.

Two tier shield for Aadhaar data

Context

In the wake of reports of an alleged breach of the Aadhaar database published in a newspaper last week, the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) has rolled out a new two-tier security process that will come into effect from June 1

What has been done?

Aimed at eliminating the need to share and store Aadhaar numbers, the UIDAI has introduced the concept of a virtual ID which an Aadhaar holder can use in lieu of his/her Aadhaar number at the time of authentication, besides sharing of ‘limited KYC’ with certain agencies

What is a virtual ID?

  • Temporary number: A Virtual ID (VID) will be a temporary 16-digit random number mapped with the Aadhaar number
  • Only one active VID: There can only be one active and valid VID for an Aadhaar number at any given time and it will not be possible to derive the Aadhaar number from VID
  • De-depulication not possible: The VID authentication will be similar to using Aadhaar numbers. However, since a VID is temporary, agencies will not be able to use it for de-duplication
  • Only the Aadhaar holder will be able to generate a VID and no other entity, including authentication user agencies (AUAs), can do it on their behalf

Backdrop

The move follows a report in The Tribune newspaper that allegedly exposed a data breach in Aadhaar records

Other issues

While VID allows Aadhaar number holders to avoid sharing Aadhaar number, storage of Aadhaar number within various databases also needs to be further regulated

  • Limited KYC concept: To address the issue, the UIDAI has brought in the concept of limited KYC. It has categorised its AUAs into Global AUAs and Local AUAs wherein the latter will get access to only need based or limited KYC details
    • AUAs, which by law are required to use Aadhaar number in their KYCs, will be categorised as Global AUAs and have access to Full e-KYC and the ability to store Aadhaar numbers within their system

UID token

Once storage of Aadhaar number is restricted and since VID is temporary, agencies need a mechanism to uniquely identify their customers within their system

  • For this, a 72 character alphanumeric ‘UID Token’ will be generated for “system use”
  • UID token allows an agency to ensure uniqueness of its beneficiaries, customers etc. without having to store Aadhaar number in their databases

7 years’ jail for benami transactions

Context

The Income-Tax Department on Wednesday warned people to “keep away” from benami transactions, cautioning that violations under the newly enacted law invites criminal prosecution and rigorous imprisonment up to seven years

Rigorous punitive measures

Benamidar [in whose name benami property is standing], beneficiary [who actually paid consideration] and persons who abet and induce benami transactions are prosecutable and may face rigorous imprisonment up to 7 years, besides being liable to pay fine up to 25% of fair market value of benami property

What is Benami property?

  • Benami essentially means property without a name. In this kind of transaction the person who pays for the property does not buys it under his/her own name.
  • The person on whose name the property has been purchased is called the benamdar and the property so purchased is called the benami property. The person who finances the deal is the real owner. ‘The property is held for the benefit – direct or indirect – of the person paying the amount

PM, economists take stock of economy

Context

In a meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday, top economists and experts in the country stressed the need for creating new jobs, even as a NITI Aayog task force has found that the statistics on lack of employment may be “overrated”. The data will be released “very soon”, NITI Aayog Vice-Chairman Rajiv Kumar said

What did the economists suggest?

The economists suggested

  • Need to improve credibility of the budget: The government needed to improve the credibility of the budget by sticking to the targets set and making more realistic projections
  • Fiscal council: The need for a “fiscal council” that would be in charge of evaluating budget estimates and fiscal targets, which would be answerable to Parliament and not just the Finance Ministry

Backdrop

The meeting follows the Central Statistics Office’s forecast that GDP growth in the current financial year will slow to a four-year low of 6.5%, from the provisional 7.1% seen in 2016-17, dragged down by deceleration in the agriculture and manufacturing sectors.

  • The Prime Minister suggested that another meeting be held again, two months after the budget

Key discussion sectors

The key sectors for discussion included macro-economy, agriculture and rural development, employment, health and education, manufacturing and exports.

How will homeless get Aadhaar(The Hindu)

Context

The Supreme Court on Wednesday questioned the government’s version of Aadhaar as a unique identifier which will benefit the poor to access welfare services, asking how the lakhs of homeless people in the country will get an Aadhaar card without a permanent address

State of homelessness in India

The 2011 Census revealed there are 1.77 million homeless people in the country. They constitute 0.15% of the total population

Backdrop

The context arose during the hearing on the lack of night shelters for homeless people

  • The court had previously summoned the Uttar Pradesh Chief Secretary to explain the lack of night shelters, especially with North India in the grip of a cold wave
  • The Bench asked if a permanent address was mandatory for Aadhaar enrolment and consequent welfare services. The Uttar Pradesh government replied in the affirmative
  • So, how do homeless people get Aadhaar if they have no home or a permanent address,” Justice Lokur shot back

Plight of migrants

Additional Solicitor-General TusharMehta reasoned that the urban homeless were mostly migrants from the rural parts of the country

  • They would have a permanent address in their native villages and would have or could apply for Aadhaar there
  • The ASG said he would get further instructions from the UIDAI on this aspect

Criticism by the court

The court criticized the Uttar Pradesh government for its poor implementation of the DeendayalAntyodayaYojana-National Urban Livelihood Mission (NULM) scheme which had existed since 2014

Government doing its best

Mr. Mehta said the State was alive to the situation and was doing its best to provide shelter to the urban homeless. He referred to the vision document prepared by the Uttar Pradesh government to deal with the issue of urban homeless, and said that as per 2011 census, there were around 1.80 lakh urban homeless in the State

Centre opens arms to single brand retail FDI

Context

The Union government on Wednesday liberalised and simplified the Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) regime in a host of sectors, including Single Brand Retail Trading (SBRT)

What has happened?

The Union Cabinet, chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, gave its approval to a proposal permitting 100% FDI under the automatic route for SBRT

Other steps

  • Easing of sourcing norms: The Centre also eased ‘sourcing norms’ in SBRT by permitting companies to set off their incremental sourcing of goods from India for global operations in the initial five years — beginning April 1 of the year of the opening of the firm’s first store — against the mandatory sourcing requirement of 30% of purchases from India
  • After the completion of the five-year period, SBRT entities would be required to meet the 30% sourcing norms directly towards its India’s operation, on an annual basis, the government said in an official statement

Benefits of the move

  • Global companies: The relaxation in sourcing norms could help companies like Apple, which had been seeking exemption from the 30% local sourcing norm, according to PankajMohindroo, national president, Indian Cellular Association (ICA)
  • Make in India: The move will not only attract additional foreign capital into the country, but will also provide an impetus to the retail industry growth, at a time when organised retail is already seeing strong growth over the last 12 months
  • Global brands across different categories, from apparel to electronics to accessories will be aided through this, providing further options to Indian consumers and improving India’s ranking in ease of doing business
  • The relaxation in local sourcing norms would allow the SBRT entity adequate time to set up their supply chain for local souring in India, Mr. Wahi said, adding that it would also provide an impetus to the government’s “Make In India” initiative
  • The move would open up the Indian retail markets, leading to greater number of brands entering the Indian retail space and thus increasing competition

Why Apple has sought the waiver?

Apple is learnt to have sought the waiver on the ground that it manufactures ‘cutting-edge technology’ products for which it is not possible to source as much from India due to the absence of or low capacity of the requisite supply-chain items

World Bank projects 7.3 % growth in 2018

Context

2018 Global Economics Prospect released by the World Bank

Observations made wrt India

  • India’s growth rate in 2018 is projected to hit 7.3% and 7.5% in the next two years, according to the World Bank, which said the country has “enormous growth potential” compared to other emerging economies with the implementation of comprehensive reforms
  • India’s economy is likely to grow 7.3% in 2018 and then accelerate to 7.5% in the next two years, the bank said. China grew at 6.8% in 2017, 0.1% more than that of India, while in 2018, its growth rate is projected at 6.4%. And in the next two years, the country’s growth rate will drop marginally to 6.3 and 6.2%, respectively

Measures that India should take

  • To materialise its potential, India needs to take steps to boost investment prospects
  • Measures in terms of non- performing loans and productivity
  • Improved labour market reforms, education and health reforms as well as relaxing investment bottleneck will help improve India’s prospects
  • Improving female labour force participation rate is going to be important

Internal security:

Maritime focus for India, ASEAN (The Hindu)

Context

The ASEAN-India Commemorative Summit of January 25 is likely to focus on maritime security for the region, a senior ASEAN diplomat said on Wednesday

Major issues: Maritime Security and Connectivity

Ambassador of Thailand Chutintorn Sam Gongsakdi said that ASEAN expects India to highlight maritime security during the summit, even as the Ministry of External Affairs said that discussion on a “very important” MoU on maritime cooperation is ongoing alongside plans for enhancement of air connectivity

Other Topics

“We expect India to highlight maritime security (in the Commemorative Summit). This meeting is important and we hope that there will be serious discussions on maritime security, including freedom of navigation, piracy, keeping sea trading lanes clear. India attaches a lot of importance to maritime security and ASEAN countries are preparing for an intense discussion on that,” said Mr.Gongsakdi

Backdrop

The summit comes days after Ms Swaraj returned from a three-nation trip to Southeast Asia where she took stock of the ties and connectivity projects between India and the ASEAN region.

Environment:

Gujarat to count elusive tigers (The Hindu)

Context

Census to be held 33 years after a big cat was spotted.

In Dang District of Gujarat

  • The counting exercise in Dang will be part of the nationwide tiger census.
  • Gujarat, which houses a rich population of lions, will now see an exercise to find out if tigers also inhabit the State.
  • The last time a tiger was spotted in Gujarat was way back in 1985
  • Now, over three decades later, a census has been planned next month to ascertain the presence of the striped animal in the forest of Dang district.

Proposal approved by NTCA

  • The State forest department earlier sent a proposal to the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) for the census after some media reports suggested the presence of tigers in Dang.
  • The proposal was approved by the NTCA, a statutory body under the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests

Earlier

Till the early 1980s, there were tigers in Gujarat, mainly inhabiting the forests of Dang, Narmada and Sabarkantha districts, he said.

The Last tiger

  • The last tiger died in a road accident in Dang in 1985
  • No tiger was seen in the State after that
  • Local people generally confuse hyenas with tigers and that is how they assume there are tigers in Gujarat forests

AP readies cosy nets for Olive Ridleys (The Hindu)

Context

The Andhra Pradesh Wildlife authorities have prepared the ground for a safe nesting season for Olive Ridley turtles along the 970-km coastline from the Srikakulam district to the Nellore district

Rookeries are being set up along the coastline; 88,500 eggs conserved in Krishna alone in 2017

An extensive plan to set up rookeries has been prepared under the in situ conservation method: collection of eggs and release of the hatchlings

IUCN Conservation Status: Vulnerable

The conservation status is ‘Vulnerable’, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s red data

Locations identified for setting up of rookeries

After a field study by the forest staff in all the districts to identify the locations, construction of the rookeries was in full swing

  • Among the identified strategic breeding locations, Baruva, Kalingapatnam, Kakinada, Machilipatnam, Hamsaladeevi and Nagayalanka beaches have been found prime destinations of the turtles for nesting, which commences in January and ends in May.
  • Five new locations have been identified to set up the rookeries includingLankavenidibba, Nachugunta and Sorlagondi where mass nesting was observed in the previous seasons

Krishna District

In Krishna district alone including the Krishna Wildlife Sanctuary, more than 88,500 eggs were conserved in the last season

Fisherfolk warned

The fisherfolk have already been alerted to be vigilant to rescue the turtles from the fishing nets

Awareness being created

Students will be educated on the conservation method and the need for care by the local communities. “We are planning to keep open the rookeries for display for the students and local communities to showcase our efforts,” said Mr.Saibaba.

Science and Technology:

PSLV all set to ferry 31 satellites tomorrow (The Hindu)

Context

The PSLV rocket, after a shocking falter four months ago, will return to the launch pad at Sriharikota on Friday

Cartosat-2F aimed at surveillance will be main payload.

  • The PSLV rocket, after a shocking falter four months ago, will return to the launch pad at Sriharikota
  • During the forced hiatus, the Indian Space Research Organisation diagnosed why the nose cone of the previous C-39 rocket did not release the satellite; it took necessary corrective steps, officials said
  • The launch is slated for 9.28 a.m. from the SatishDhawan Space Centre in Andhra Pradesh. The countdown is set to begin Thursday morning

31 total satellites

Now among the world’s favourite and reliable commercial launchers for small satellites, the upcoming 42nd PSLV will carry a total of 31 satellites including 28 paid riders.

Cartosat-2F

  • The main payload, the 710-kg Cartosat-2F, is the seventh in the Cartosat-2 series and is built to work for five years
  • Said to have a high, sub-metre resolution, it is unofficially said to serve military surveillance purposes.

Small satellites

  • ISRO is putting up two of its own small satellites — a 100 kg micro satellite and the 11-kg nano satellite INS-1C. There are also 28 smaller customers.
  • The commercial satellites include three 100-kg class micro satellites and 25 nanosats (1-10 kg) from Canada, Finland, France, Korea the U.K. and the U.S.

Revenue earned

  • The PSLV has so far launched 209 small and medium satellites for foreign countries and earned revenue for the commercial arm, Antrix Corporation Ltd.
  • ISRO will be trying a two-orbit feat with the PSLV for the second time

The process

  • On Friday, just after 17 minutes from take-off, the main satellite will be released first into a 505-km orbit, followed by 29 others.
  • Almost 1.5 hours later, microsat will be released into a lower 359 km orbit. Between the two orbits, the engine in the fourth stage of the rocket will be re-started twice during the course.
  • The flight lasting 2 hours and 21 minutes will be the longest of the PSLV, about six minutes longer than C-35 which was launched in September 2016.

A pioneer in biotechnology (The Hindu Opinion)

Context

Nobel Laureate HarGobind Khorana’s contributions to biology are of contemporary relevance for some of the most exciting areas such as synthetic biology and gene editing. A Google Doodle on Tuesday to mark the 96th birth anniversary of the Indian-origin American scientist this week stoked much interest in his work.

HarGobind Khorana is credited with making the first synthetic genes by cutting and pasting DNA bits

What were his contributions to biology?

After James Watson and Francis Crick found that DNA (De-oxy ribonucleic acid) had a double-helix structure, Khorana was among those who significantly built on that knowledge and explained how this sequence of nucleic acids (better known as the genetic code) goes about making proteins, which is critical to the functioning of cells

Nobel Prize

  • The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for 1968 was awarded jointly to Robert W. Holley, HarGobind Khorana and Marshall W. Nirenberg “for their interpretation of the genetic code and its function in protein synthesis.”
  • Khorana was able to create nucleic acids in the lab and did so by figuring out the order in which nucleotides needed to be to make a suite of amino acids, which are the basic units of proteins.

Synthetic genes

Khorana is credited with making the first synthetic genes by cutting and pasting different bits of DNA together

This is considered a forerunner to the method called Polymerase Chain Reaction that is among the methods used to commercially read the unique genetic structures of organisms today

Founding father of biotechnology

He further placed the lab-made gene in a living bacterium and was, in that sense, a founding father of biotechnology

CRISPR/Cas9 system references HarGobindKhurana’s work

The CRISPR/Cas9 system, which is the glitziest new toy in genetics and is used alter the functioning of certain genes, references the work of Khorana as a key influence.’

What was his connection with India?

  • Khorana was born in 1922 in Raipur, a village in Punjab now part of Pakistan
  • He was the youngest of six siblings and his father was a ‘patwari’, a village agricultural taxation clerk in the British Indian system of government
  • He lived in India until 1945, when the award of a Government of India Fellowship made it possible for him to go to England for a PhD at the University of Liverpool
  • Khorana became a naturalised U.S. citizen in 1966.
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