Among the multiple endings (The Hindu Opinion)
How Kulbhushan Jadhav’s fate is tied to the state of play in India-Pakistan ties
Two Years ago
The symbolism was inescapable. Two years ago, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi made an impromptu stop-over in Lahore to reach out to the then Pakistani Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, during the wedding of his grand-daughter, it was Christmas Day, December 25, 2015. Recall the circumstances.
Back to square one
Two years later, by permitting naval commander Kulbhushan Jadhav’s mother and wife to visit him in Islamabad on December 25, Pakistan’s deep state was signalling that New Delhi should consider this a return gift.
Message of peace torn
But that message of peace was torn to shreds in that metal container with a glass panel where India and Pakistan conducted fishbowl diplomacy
Rules of engagement need to be rewritten
The rules of engagement need to be rewritten yet again, this time in a way that insulates bilateral relations from the vagaries of Pakistan’s internal politics.
Was the outcome of Jadhav family reunion, with a disrupted conversation and the visitors’ accessories confiscated, a failure of anticipation?
Consider the circumstances
Downturn in relations with Pakistan
There has been a downturn in relations with Pakistan in every sphere, against the backdrop of another domestic political upheaval that dislodged Mr. Sharif from the Prime Minister’s post.
External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj informed Parliament that what eventually happened in the Pakistan Foreign Office when Jadhav’s wife and mother were allowed to briefly interact with him in highly restrictive circumstances was a “departure from the agreed understandings between the two countries in the conduct of this meeting.”
There is still not enough detail in the public domain on what exactly were these modalities and understandings that had been worked out diplomatically and how much ambiguity was inherent in the resultant format for either side to interpret
Pakistani journalists allowed to badger the family
That Pakistani journalists were allowed to repeatedly attempt to badger Mr. Jadhav’s wife and mother, that no communication was allowed in Marathi, their mother tongue, that the footwear Mr. Jadhav’s wife was wearing was confiscated and sent for unspecified tests indicate the potential for further diplomatic mischief.
Pakistan hasn’t allowed consular access
But the larger point remains that Pakistan has not allowed consular access to Mr. Jadhav — that is, Indian diplomats in Islamabad have not been able to visit him in prison and record his version of how he came to be in Pakistan’s custody, etc.
Might be a spy, so What?
It may not come as a surprise if it turns out that Mr. Jadhav was indeed a spy, but even that needn’t detain us here. Nations spy on each other.
The issue here is the message that Pakistan is conveying.
The question is: at the end of this bruising diplomacy, who is likely to walk away smelling more of roses? And certainly, it is not clear how all this has helped Mr. Jadhav’s condition or eventual fate, whatever conclusion the International Court of Justice may or may not reach
Mr Jadhav unders stress and coercion
From the debriefing the Ministry of External affairs got from his mother and wife, it appeared to them that the alleged spy was “under considerable stress and was speaking in an atmosphere of coercion.” Moreover, his appearance had also raised questions of his health and well-being.
Mr. Jadhav may well receive a presidential pardon, and be retuned to India. There may even be a spy barter, though this occurs mostly before their cases come up for trial and rarely afterwards.
The question now
So long as there are spies among us, the script has many potential endings. Which one will we eventually get to see?
Sushma to go on tri-nation tour (The Hindu)
Beginning the groundwork for the ASEAN-India Commemorative Summit later this month, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj will visit Thailand, Indonesia and Singapore from January 4 to 8
To lay the groundwork for the ASEAN-India Commemorative Summit
The three-nation visit is likely to cover India’s annual plans for the region and include the launch of the Regional Pravasi Bharatiya Divas for the ASEAN countries.
The visit to Thailand on January 4 and 5 is significant as that nation will assume charge of India-ASEAN relations in mid-2018.
Pravasi Bharatiya Divas
The visiting Minister will inaugurate the Regional Pravasi Bharatiya Divas of ASEAN countries in Singapore on January 7 on the theme “Ancient route, new journey: diaspora in the dynamic ASEAN-India partnership”.
ASEAN-India Network of Think Tanks
In Indonesia, Ms. Swaraj and her counterpart, Retno Marsudi, will jointly inaugurate the second meeting of the ASEAN-India Network of Think Tanks.
New Secretary-General of ASEAN
Ms. Swaraj is expected to discuss the modalities of the ASEAN-India Commemorative Summit with Lim Jock Hoi, the new Secretary-General of ASEAN on January 5 and 6.
Israel passes new law on Jerusalem (The Hindu)
Israel’s parliament passed a law on Tuesday requiring a supermajority to relinquish control over any part of Jerusalem, a move that could hamstring the city’s division in any future peace deal.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas called the legislation “tantamount to declaring war on the Palestinian people.”
The amendment bars the government from ceding Israeli sovereignty over any part of Jerusalem without approval of at least 80 of the legislature’s 120 members.
But the law itself can be overturned with a simple majority, making it largely symbolic.
Can remove Palestinian neighborhoods
- The law also permits the government to remove outlying Palestinian neighborhoods from the city, a move promoted by hard-liners to preserve Jerusalem’s Jewish majority
- They would be turned into separate municipalities under Israeli control.
The Knesset (The Knesset is the unicameral national legislature of Israel. As the legislative branch of the Israeli government, the Knesset passes all laws, elects the President and Prime Minister, approves the cabinet, and supervises the work of the government) approved the legislation in a 64-52 vote, with opposition politicians saying it would make it even harder to make peace with the Palestinians
The Old Issue
- Israel claims all of Jerusalem as its capital
- The Palestinians want east Jerusalem, which Israel captured in the 1967 war and annexed in a move not recognized internationally, to be the capital of their future state
Tensions rose after President Donald Trump declared Jerusalem to be Israel’s capital last month, breaking with decades of U.S. policy and an international consensus that the city’s status should be decided in peace negotiations.
Decision indicative of the underlying opinion
- The steering body’s decision was symbolic, but indicative of the prevailing opinion of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s party, which is opposed to the internationally-backed concept of a two-state solution
- The Palestinians condemned that decision and accused Mr. Trump of emboldening the Likud party.
Indian Constitution and Polity:
Questionable remedy (The Hindu Opinion)
The decision of the Lok Sabha to send the National Medical Commisssion Bill to a standing committee for a relook is the right one. First proposed in 2016 , the Bill aims to overhaul the corrupt and inefficient Medical Council of India, which regulates medical education and practice
National Medical Commission Bill
First proposed in 2016, the Bill aims to overhaul the corrupt and inefficient Medical Council of India, which regulates medical education and practice
Isn’t a game changer
But despite its plus points, the NMC isn’t the game-changing legislation it could have been.
Independent Medical Advisory Council
- One of its goals is to rein in corruption in the MCI through greater distribution of powers
- This is sought to be accomplished through an independent Medical Advisory Council to oversee the National Medical Commission, the proposed successor of the MCI
- But all members of the NMC are members of the Council, undermining the latter’s independence
Allowing alternative-medicine practitioners to prescribe modern drugs
- Perhaps the most controversial provision of all is for a bridge course allowing alternative-medicine practitioners to prescribe modern drugs
- One motivation could be to plug the shortfall of rural doctors by creating a new cadre of practitioners.
- But if this was the rationale, better solutions exist.
Shortfall of Doctors
- The shortfall of MBBS doctors is partly due to the fact that many of them seek a post-graduate degree to improve career prospects
- MCI regulations prevent even experienced MBBS doctors from carrying out procedures like caesarians and ultrasound tests, while nurses are barred from administering anaesthesia.
Empowering doctors & nurses
Empowering doctors and nurses to do more is a reform many have called for, and that would have been easier to implement than a bridge course for AYUSH practitioners
Yet, the NMC Bill hasn’t taken it up
3 year Diploma for rural medical care providers
Another way to bolster healthcare delivery is a three-year diploma for rural medical-care providers, along the lines of the Licentiate Medical Practitioners who practised in India before 1946
Tried before in Chhattisgarh
- Chhattisgarh tried this experiment in 2001 to tackle the paucity of doctors it faced as it was formed
- Graduates from such a three-year programme would only be allowed to provide basic care in under-served pockets
Protests by IMA
Massive protests by the Indian Medical Association and poor execution derailed the Chhattisgarh experiment, but the idea wasn’t without merit
- India has no choice but to innovate with health-care delivery models to tackle the challenges it faces
- The trick is to base these innovations on evidence
- There is plenty of evidence that MBBS doctors and nurses can do more than they are legally allowed to do
- But integrating alternative-medicine practitioners into modern medicine requires a lot more thought
- The government will do well to empower existing doctors before attempting more ambitious, and questionable, experiments.
Doctors call off strike after Centre defers Bill (The Hindu)
The Indian Medical Association (IMA) called off its 12-hour strike on Tuesday after the government referred the controversial National Medical Commission Bill, tabled in the Lok Sabha, to a Standing Committee.
It will go now to Standing Committee
IMA’s next step would be to convince the Committee of the many flaws in the Bill.
- The National Medical Commission (NMC) Bill, 2017, seeks to replace the Medical Council of India (MCI) with a new body
- The Bill proposes a government-nominated chairman and members, who will be selected by a committee under the Cabinet Secretary
View of the IMA: Government interference
The medical fraternity is opposing the clause, fearing that the body would effectively be run by the government
A Bridge Course
The Bill also allows practitioners of Ayurveda and other traditional Indian systems of medicine the licence to prescribe allopathic drugs after they have passed a ‘bridge course.’
In its current form, the Bill does away with the MCI and bring in a national licentiate examination.
The government claims that the Bill will ease the processes for colleges to manage undergraduate and postgraduate courses
Earlier, the MCI’s approval was needed for establishing, renewing, recognising and increasing seats in an undergraduate course
New proposed provision
Under the new proposal, permission needs to be sought only for establishment and recognition.
- The IMA said that the NMC would not be “national” as it did not represent all States
- In its merging of Ayush with modern medicine, it posed a potential threat to patients and was as risky as an untested medical “trial.”
Rajya Sabha passes Bankruptcy Code bill (The Hindu)
The Rajya Sabha on Tuesday passed the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code (Amendment) Bill, 2017, which bars unscrupulous persons from misusing the provisions of the Code. The Bill, which replaces an ordinance promulgated last November, was cleared by the Lok Sabha last week
The Bill, which replaces an ordinance promulgated last November, was cleared by the Lok Sabha last week.
Concurring with Congress leader Jairam Ramesh, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said it was only in recent years that the government had chartered into the bankruptcy and insolvency area. “Therefore, for all of us, it is a learning experience. We encounter situations that we had not anticipated earlier, and as we move further, we will certainly require evolution as far as our laws and procedures are concerned,”
Code’s application for MSME
Insolvency Legal Committee was examining if separate regulations were required for the sector.
Another major concern was the huge “haircut [loss on account of auction of assets of defaulting companies],” to the extent of 75%, being taken by public sector creditors
Government: it was for the creditors to decide how much haircut they wanted to settle for.
Fears over FRDI bill misplaced:govt (The Hindu)
In yet another clarification about the Financial Regulatory and Deposit Insurance (FRDI) Bill, the government has said depositors will be given preferential treatment in the event of liquidation of a bank, and the controversial bail-in clause will be used only with the prior consent of depositors.
Bail-in won’t be applied to public sector banks, it will be used as a last resort in the case of private entities’
The clarification also said the bail-in clause would not be applied to public sector banks, and it would be a tool of last resort — when a merger or acquisition is not viable — in the case of private sector banks. The government reiterated its implicit guarantee for the solvency of public sector banks.
Under current laws, deposits with banks are insured up to ₹1 lakh.
Under the FRDI law, the Resolution Corporation is empowered to increase this deposit insurance amount.
FRDI bill current status
The FRDI Bill was introduced in Parliament in August 2017 and is under the consideration of a Joint Committee of Parliament.
‘One of the tools’
- Bail-in has been proposed as one of the resolution tools in the event a financial firm is sought to be sustained by resolution
- Certain misgivings have been expressed in the media, especially social media, regarding the depositor protection in the context of the ‘bail-in’ provisions of the FRDI Bill. These misgivings are entirely misplaced.
According to the government, there is no risk of public sector banks being required to avail themselves of the bail-in clause because the government always stands ready to take care of the capital needs of the public sector banks.
Might never be used
Most certainly, it [bail-in] will not be used in case of a public sector bank as such a contingency is not likely to arise
The Guarantee unaffected
The implicit guarantee for solvency of public sector banks remains unaffected as the government remains committed to adequately capitalise them and improve their financial health.
The government said bail-in is only one of many resolution tools in the FRDI Bill, with others including mergers and acquisition of the ailing financial institution, and is to be used either singly or in combination with other tools.
The statement said the FRDI Bill includes formal safeguards for the use of the bail-in clause and the protection of depositors’ interests that current legislations do not.
Only with prior consent
Cancellation of the liability of the depositor beyond insured amount will be possible only with the prior consent of the depositor
Subject to scrutiny
The bail-in instrument, as designed by the Resolution Corporation, will be subject to Government scrutiny and the oversight of Parliament.
Uninsured depositors secured
- Bail-in power can be used in a judicious and reasonable manner only by the Resolution Corporation and it will have to ensure that all creditors, including uninsured depositors, get at least such value which they would have received in the event of liquidation of a bank.
- In other words, under the new law, uninsured depositors will recover at least as much of their deposits as they would have if the bank had been liquidated under current laws.
If affected have right to compensation
In case of injudicious and unreasonable exercise of bail-in power by the Resolution Corporation, for example, where the depositors of a bank get less value than in liquidation, such affected depositors will have the right to get compensation from the Resolution Corporation on an order of the National Company Law Tribunal
Electoral bonds for political donations notified (The Hindu)
Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley on Tuesday outlined the basic contours of the electoral bonds scheme announced during the 2017 Budget, including their denominations, validity, and eligibility of the purchasers.
Electoral bonds will allow donors to remain anonymous and pay political parties using banks as intermediaries.
- Electoral bonds would be a bearer instrument in the nature of a promissory note and an interest-free banking instrument
- A citizen of India or a body incorporated in India will be eligible to purchase the bond.
- Electoral bonds can be purchased for any value in multiples of ₹1,000, ₹10,000, ₹10 lakh, and ₹1 crore from any of the specified branches of the State Bank of India.
- The purchaser will be allowed to buy electoral bonds only on due fulfilment of all the extant KYC norms and by making payment from a bank account
- It will not carry the name of the payee.
To increase transparency in political funding
- The bonds, aimed at increasing transparency in political funding, will have a life of 15 days during which they can be used to make donations to registered political parties that have secured not less than 1% of the votes polled in the last election to the Lok Sabha or Assembly.
- The bonds shall be available for purchase for a period of 10 days each in the months of January, April, July and October, with an additional 30 days to be specified by the Central government in the year of a general election.
- The bond shall be encashed by an eligible political party only through a designated bank account with the authorised bank
- When Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge asked what purpose the bonds would serve when the name of the donor is not disclosed
- Mr. Jaitley said bonds would get reflected in the balance sheet of the donors.
Balance sheet of the donors will reflect the purchase of these bonds
- (For) donors who buy these bonds, their balance sheet will reflect (the purchase)
- It will ensure cleaner money coming from donors, cleaner money coming to political party and ensure significant transparency
- The 15 days’ time has been prescribed for the bonds to ensure that they do not become a parallel currency.
- “Every political party will file before Election Commission return as to how much money has come through electoral bonds,” the Minister said.
Why name of the donor a secret?
- The past experience has shown that once the names are disclosed, there is a tendency to shift to cash donations.
- The present system is unclean money and new system is a substantial amount of transparency if not total
Move away from cash
The idea is to move away from present system, which is cash, Mr. Jaitley said. “This will substantially help a lot of opposition parties because in case a disclosure is made it will always be in favour of ruling party,” he said. “People who are expressing apprehension let them suggest better way.”
Ambedkar’s visit to the battle site on January 1, 1927, revitalised the memory of the battle for the Dalit community, making it a rallying point and an assertion of pride.
- The Koregaon Ranstambh (victory pillar) is an obelisk in Bhima-Koregaon village commemorating the British East India Company soldiers who fell in a battle on January 1, 1818, where the British, with just 834 infantrymen — about 500 of them from the Mahar community — and 12 officers defeated the 28,000-strong army of Peshwa Bajirao II
- It was one of the last battles of the Third Anglo-Maratha War, which ended the Peshwa domination.
In 2005, the Bhima-Koregaon Ranstambh Seva Sangh (BKRSS) was formed to keep alive the memory of this episode in Indian history and pay homage to those among the Dalit community who fought for their self-respect in that battle.
Lakhs of people visit
- From mere thousands in earlier years, today lakhs of visitors from across India come to pay homage at the site; there is a particularly massive representation of community members from Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka and Gujarat
- One part of the tradition is that several retired officers of the Mahar Regiment come to do homage to this exploit of valour.
What happened recently
This year, the Elgaar (battle-cry) Parishad, an event celebrating the bicentenary of the battle irked some right-wing Hindutva and Brahmin organisations, who demanded that the city police prohibit its staging at the Shaniwarwada fort, the erstwhile seat of Peshwa power.
The Dalit–Maratha rift
- Relations between the Mahars and the Peshwas, who were Brahmins, grew strained after the death of Baji Rao I in 1740, and reached their nadir during the reign of Bajirao Rao II, who insulted the Mahar community and spurned their offer of service with his army
- This caused them to side with the English against the Peshwa’s numerically superior army.
- Dalit scholars say Indian history is often recorded from a Brahminical perspective, which has resulted in Bhima-Koregaon and other battles in which Dalits fought, not getting their due
No Caste conflict
BKRSS members, though, point out the dangers of the reductive view of the battle as caste conflict, and cite historical records documenting Mahars fighting in the Maratha army since the times of Shivaji, and even fighting alongside the Peshwa’s forces, including in the third battle of Panipat and the battle of Kharda.
Side by side
Some accounts say that Govind Ganapat Gaikwad, a Mahar, performed the final rites of Sambhaji (Shivaji’s son) after he was tortured to death and hacked to pieces on Aurangzeb’s orders in 1689.
Factory activity quickens in Dec: PMI (The Hindu)
Manufacturing activity quickened to the fastest pace in five years in December, bolstered by a sharp rise in output and new orders, according to a private sector survey.
‘Survey reading of 54.7 shows fastest pace of expansion in five years; GST pushes up raw material costs’
The Nikkei India Puchasing Managers’ Index registered a value of 54.7 in December, compared with 52.6 in November. A value over 50 indicates an expansion while one below 50 denotes a contraction.
On a strong note
- The Indian manufacturing sector ended the year on a strong note, with operating conditions improving at the strongest rate in five years
- The overall upturn was supported by the sharpest increase in output and new orders since December 2012 and October 2016 respectively
Job creation quickened
In response to the improved inflows of new business, job creation quickened to the strongest since August 2012, according to the report.
Improvement in health sectors
This was consistent with the strongest improvement in the health of the sector since December 2012
PMI a little higher
Notably, the PMI reading was slightly stronger than the average (54.0) recorded since the inception of the survey in March 2005.”
‘Input cost inflation’
However, the sector continues to face some turbulence as delayed customer payments contributed to greater volumes of outstanding work
- On the price front, July’s Goods and Services Tax (GST) continued to lead to greater raw material costs, with input cost inflation accelerating to the sharpest since April.
- Firms were restricted in their ability to pass on higher costs to clients, which added upward pressure on margins.
Overall upturn robust but challenges remain
- Challenges remain as the economy adjusts to recent shocks, but the overall upturn was robust compared to the trend observed for the survey history
- This outlook was shared by the manufacturing community as sentiment picked up to the strongest in three months amid expected improvements in market conditions over the next 12 months
On the ledger (The Hindu Editorial)
Expenditure data underline the government’s challenge on fiscal consolidation
Fiscal deficit increased
Eight months into the financial year, or until end November, the Union government’s fiscal deficit — the amount by which its expenditure exceeds revenue — had already overshot the year’s budget target by a significant ₹65,573 crore
And as in everything with numbers, there are several interesting insights to be had, some fairly straightforward and self-explanatory and others less obvious and disconcerting
Faster growth of expenditure
One of the biggest contributors to the wider fiscal slippage has clearly been the faster pace at which total expenditure has grown
- Increase percentage
While the government had in the Union Budget provided for overall spending to increase by a modest 6.6% over the revised estimates for the previous fiscal, data for April-November released by the Controller General of Accounts show a 14.9% jump year-on-year
- Last minute spending of the ministries
A look at the individual ministries and how they have front-loaded their spending shows wide variability with several ministries still significantly underutilising their budget allocations over the first eight months. (One of the government’s aims when it advanced the budget presentation by a month to February 1 was to ensure that government departments had adequate time to spend the funds apportioned to them in an optimal manner.
Revenue receipts grow at a slow rate
Similarly, revenue receipts for the eight-month period have shown an underwhelming 1.1% year-on-year increase while the budget projection was for 6.5% growth
- Why: GST?
Even if some of the sluggishness in revenue receipts can be explained by the fact that the current year has been a one-off, transitional period given that the GST regime was implemented from July 1, there are other pressure points that policymakers need to square up with
Non-tax revenue at 36.5% of budget estimates compares unfavourably with the 54.2% garnered in the corresponding period of the previous year.
- There is also the issue of how the government is likely to account the additional capital it has announced as part of the recapitalisation effort to bolster the financial health of public sector banks
- There is the additional ₹50,000 crore in market borrowing that the government has planned for the fourth quarter — a move it has said will not significantly impact the fiscal calculus since it simultaneously plans to scale back collections from treasury bills
The Widening fiscal gap
The fiscal gap has widened in spite of a healthy jump in non-debt capital receipts, which include the ₹17,357 crore the government received from the public listing of state-run insurance companies, and steady improvements in corporate and personal income tax collections
Little room for complacency now
That the figures revealing the fiscal slippage have come less than two months after Moody’s upgraded India’s sovereign credit rating serves as a reminder that there is little room for complacency
With monetary authorities at the RBI having reiterated the inflationary risks that a worsening fiscal gap would pose, and private investment still struggling to gain traction, policymakers would do well to try and regain their footing on the crucial path of fiscal consolidation.
Science and Technology:
The Defence Ministry on Tuesday gave the final approvals for the procurement of 131 Barak missiles for the Navy and 240 precision-guided munitions (PGM) for the Indian Air Force (IAF), together estimated at ₹1,714 crore. The proposals were cleared by Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, the Ministry said in a statement.
Nirmala Sitharaman clears purchases for IAF, Navy
- This PGM is a variant of the KAB PGMs the IAF has in service and employed by Su-30 fighter jets
- It is a regular procurement through the revenue expenditure
- Due to the value of the contract, the approval of Defence Ministry was required
- The 240 KAB-1500 PGMs will be procured from Rosoboronexport of Russia at a cost of ₹1,254 crore.
- The second proposal was the final contract for 131 Barak surface-to-air missiles (SAM), which are installed on all frontline warships of the Navy
Last April, the Defence Acquisition Council (DAC), under the then Defence Minister Arun Jaitley, had cleared the procurement under “Buy Global” category of procurement procedure from Rafael Advance Defence Systems Ltd. of Israel at a cost of ₹460 crore
Officials said the final contract had now been signed.
Warming may turn quarter of earth arid (the Hindu)
Over a quarter of the world’s land could become significantly drier even if global warming is limited to the target of two degree Celsius, according to scientists including one of Indian origin
Threat could be curbed if temperature is limited to 1.5 degrees
The change would cause an increased threat of drought and wildfires.
However, limiting global warming to under 1.5 degree Celsius would dramatically reduce the fraction of the Earth’s surface that undergoes such changes.
Projections from 27 global climate models
- Researchers from University of East Anglia (UEA) in the U.K. and Southern University of Science and Technology (SUSTech) in China studied projections from 27 global climate models.
- They identified the areas of the world where aridity will substantially change when compared to the year-to-year variations they experience now, as global warming reaches 1.5 or two degree Celsius above pre-industrial levels.
- Aridity is a measure of the dryness of the land surface, obtained from combining precipitation and evaporation.
- Aridification is a serious threat because it can critically impact areas such as agriculture, water quality, and biodiversity. It can also lead to more droughts and wildfires
- Our research predicts that aridification would emerge over about 20-30 per cent of the world’s land surface by the time the global mean temperature change reaches two degrees Celsius
- But two thirds of the affected regions could avoid significant aridification if warming is limited to 1.5 degrees Celsius