Hubris of science: (Indian Express, Editorial)
It has become an ideology of the powerful. Democratic societies need a plurality of knowledge systems.
- The recent ‘March for Science’ in Delhi on 9th August, 2017 has caught the criticisms of many.
- Science fights dogmas and practices, it gives us clarity of understanding, and the power to demystify and objectify nature for establishing human control over it, and hence, no modern nation in its quest for material wealth and secular reasoning can escape science.
- Critics are of the opinion that even though the achievements of science are remarkable, but its success is tragic.
- Science has been reduced to scientism; it has become hegemonic.
- The orthodoxy of old-fashioned priests, astrologers and practitioners of witchcraft is nothing compared to the damage caused by the scientist dealing with techno science.
- Despite tremendous progress in the philosophy of science, the majority of the practitioners remain reductionist, stereotyping nature and deterministic in their approach.
- They fail to understand the nuanced meanings of reality — the entire domain of symbolism, human longing and creative exploration for man is not just “rational” and “logical”; man is also a visionary, a mystic, a poet, a wanderer and civilisation progresses because there are multiple ways through which we make sense of the world.
- Science is just one way; it has no right to silence the other perspectives.
- A truly democratic society needs plurality of knowledge traditions, not just science.
- Superstitions have to be fought but it is wrong to believe that science alone can fight it.
India and neighbors
More troops on China border: (The Hindu)
- India has deployed more troops along the entire 1,400 km of the border with China in Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh in the face of sensitive speechmaking by Beijing over the Doklam standoff.
Rising Caution level
- The “caution level” among the troops has been raised.
- The officials declined to give any figure or percentage of increased deployment, saying they cannot disclose “operational details”.
- The Sukna-based 33 Corps and 3 and 4 corps based in Arunachal Pradesh and Assam have been tasked to protect border in the east.
- The officials, however, said there was no enhancement of troops at Doklam.
- Defence Minister Arun Jaitley assured the Lok Sabha that the armed forces were prepared for any eventuality amid a tense standoff between India and China in Doklam.
- Jaitely confirmed that the armed forces had adequate equipment to tackle any emergency.
- On a CAG report that the forces had ammunition only for 22 days in case of a war, he said “significant progress” had been made on this issue.
In South Asia, be the Un-China: (The Hindu, Editorial)
India needs to rekindle the SAARC process in order to secure historical affinity with its neighbours.
- India needs to rekindle the SAARC process in order to secure historical affinity with its neighbours.
- As the stand-off between the Indian and Chinese militaries enters its third month at Doklam, it is not just Bhutan that is keenly anticipating the potential fallout. The entire neighbourhood is watching.
- There is obvious interest in how the situation plays out and the consequent change in the balance of power between India and China in South Asia.
- Consequently, India’s other neighbours are likely to implement their own lessons about dealing with their respective “tri-junctions” both real and imagined, on land and in the sea.
- Moreover, as per Nepal’s Deputy Prime Minister Krishna Bahadur Mahara, Nepal will not get dragged into this or that side in the border dispute.
- Even if Pakistan is not counted in this list of neighbour then it is not hard to see which way India’s immediate neighbours, which are each a part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), are headed in the next few years.
What India needs to do?
- To begin with, India must regain its role as a prime mover of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), the organisation it abandoned a year ago over its problems with Pakistan.
- SAARC has survived three decades in spite of its biggest challenge, India-Pakistan tensions.
- Second, India must recognise that picking sides in the politics of its neighbours makes little difference to China’s success there. For instance:
- In Sri Lanka, the Sirisena government hasn’t changed course when it comes to China, and despite its protestations that it was saddled with debt by the Rajapaksa regime, it has made no moves to clear that debt while signing up for more.
- India must recognise that doing better with its neighbours is not about investing more or undue favours. It is about following a policy of mutual interests and of respect, which India is more culturally attuned to than its larger rival is.
- When dealing with Beijing bilaterally, India must match China’s aggression, and counter its moves with its own. When dealing with China in South Asia, however, India must do exactly the opposite, and not allow itself to be outpaced. In short, India must “be the Un-China.
Contesting parties given 10 weeks to translate documents related to the Ramjanmabhoomi-Babri Masjid title dispute.
- The Supreme Court on August 11, 2017 scheduled the hearing of 13 appeals in the Ramjanmabhoomi-Babri Masjid title dispute on December 5, 2017.
- The court gave the Uttar Pradesh government responsibility to translate the oral evidence in the case within a period of 10 weeks from August, 2017.
- But the Uttar Pradesh government insisted that the court hearing begin soon and the parties can, on their own, translate the documents they intend to rely on as and when they require during the hearings.
- The court further said that it would first hear the appeals on the original title suits and then subsequently hear a writ petition filed which says that the right to worship at the Ram mandir in the disputes land is his fundamental right.
- This dispute, which has seen much tension and violence over the past decades, has been a subject of intense litigation since the 1950s.
Law itself allows cattle slaughter, SC tells govt.: (The Hindu)
- If slaughtering cattle for food or religious sacrifice is allowed under the Prevention of Cruelty Act, why did the government ban the sale of cattle for these purposes in the new livestock market rules, the Supreme Court asks.
The Bench questions
- A Bench of Chief Justice of India pointed out that the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act of 1960 allowed slaughter for food and religious sacrifices.
- The Prevention of Cruelty to Animal (Regulation of Livestock Market) Rules of 2017 on the other hand require a person coming to the market to give a written undertaking that he will not sell his cattle for slaughter.
- “How can you [the Centre] insist that a person should give a written undertaking that he is not bringing cattle to the market for sale for slaughter? This is an interference of his fundamental right to carry on trade, protected under the Prevention of Cruelty Act,” Justice D.Y. Chandrachud told the government.
- The Bench established the order of the Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court staying certain provisions of the livestock rules banning sale or purchase of cattle in markets for slaughter and religious sacrifices.
- It, however, clarified that there was no stay on the implementation of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Maintenance of Case Property Animals) Act of 2017.
- Disposing of the pleas challenging the rules, the court allowed petitioners to approach it in case of grievance about the fresh rules the government proposes to notify soon.
Slow injustice: (The Hindu, Editorial)
- Speedy trials alone can undo the sense of injustice caused by acquittal after years in jail
The slow and unfair justice system of India
- The wholesale acquittal of all 10 persons arrested in connection with a blast at the Police Task Force office at Begumpet in Hyderabad in 2005 must occasion serious introspection on the prevailing gulf between crime and justice.
- Acquittals in such cases carry a sense of injustice, especially when they are based on absence of evidence and not merely because there is some doubt about culpability.
- It seems unfair to those who feel the accused got away; but more often, the injustice flows from the loss suffered by the accused who might have spent years in prison, possibly in the prime of youth.
- Incidents have occurred in recent times, when people get arrested for alleged involvement in terrorism incidents and then being released after years in prison.
- Examples include Nisar-ud-din Ahmad, who spent 23 years in prison in connection with several train blasts, before the Supreme Court ordered his release last year.
- Aligarh Muslim University research scholar Gulzar Mohammed Wani spent 16 years in jail on suspicion of being a member of the Hizbul Mujahideen before he was acquitted due to lack of evidence.
- Release from one or two charges cannot be adequate compensation for the loss of liberty and the trauma of the trial.
- A key aspect of these cases is that they were serious crimes warranting credible investigation and vigorous prosecution.
- The outcome, often acquittal for want of evidence, reflects poorly on the investigating machinery as well as the judicial system.
- In December 2016, the National Investigation Agency managed to get Yasin Bhatkal, founder of the Indian Mujahideen, and four others convicted and sentenced to death in connection with the 2013 twin blasts in Hyderabad, but it is a rare instance of a successful prosecution and a relatively quick trial.
Fairness in the system is necessary
- Fairness in the administration of criminal justice is not secured by the final outcome alone, but must be built into the process of determining whether a person is guilty or not.
- Courts tend to refute bail in cases related to terrorism, but do not show a matching commitment to a swift trial.
- Delayed trials weaken the prosecution’s case. Witnesses tend to forget crucial details or lack the resolve to depose carefully.
- Every person acquitted may not be innocent; equally, it cannot be said that people are going scot-free after committing grave offences.
- Individuals come under suspicion for their links with organizations, but are acquitted by courts after the prosecution fails to link them to any particular crime.
- One way of addressing the problem of prolonged custody and careless prosecution is to make it a matter of policy to have a quick and time-bound trial at least in serious cases involving acts of terrorism and those under special laws. Justice, if it has to be substantive, cannot be in slow motion.
Push for law to ensure transparency rules: (The Hindu)
- The government could consider introducing a new law to ensure transparency of rules, the Economic Survey has recommended.
- The problem is that it is not easy for ordinary citizens [and businesses] in India to navigate the multitude of rules, regulations, forms, taxes and procedures imposed by various tiers of government.
- Moreover, these rules frequently change and sometimes contradict each other.
- Arguing that if the average citizen could easily access the latest rules and regulations in a comprehensible format, India would benefit enormously.
- The survey suggests a Transparency of Rules Act (TORA) as a possible solution.
- Explaining that it is not referring to the content of the rules but solely about the ease of finding out what the citizen is expected to so.
- The Survey said even government officials struggle to keep up with ‘the latest version’ of complicated rules.
- The TORA is an endeavor to change in some ways the relationship between the average normal citizen and the State.
- All forms of governance are based on citizens being expected to follow the rules.
- Unfortunately, in India, very often, the rules are not so transparent.
Indian Economy. Planning, Growth and Employment
The Indian economy’s growth in 2017-18 is more likely to be closer to 6.5% than 7.5%, according to Chief Economic Adviser Arvind Subramanian.
- Union finance minister Arun Jaitley tables second volume of the Economic Survey 2016-17 in Lok Sabha
- The Economic Survey expects fiscal deficit to decline to 3.2% of GDP in FY18 compared with 3.5% in FY17
- The Survey, anchored by chief economic adviser Arvind Subramanian, said the deflationary impact this year could be as much as 0.35% of gross domestic product (GDP). It cited the example of Uttar Pradesh, which has slashed capital expenditure by 13% to accommodate a Rs36,359 crore loan waiver.
- Farmers’ incomes stressed by lower non-cereal food prices, farm loan waivers and the consequent fiscal tightening by state governments, and strains in the power and telecommunication sectors that are exacerbating the so-called twin balance sheet problem are among the deflationary impulses that will limit economic growth in the short run.
- The twin balance sheet problem refers to the ballooning of debt on the books of corporate entities and the estimated Rs10 trillion of stressed assets that have piled up at banks because of the inability of borrowers to repay.
- With monetary policy having been tighter than assumed and the rupee having appreciated against the dollar, the balance of risk has shifted to the downside and it is unlikely that the upper band of the projected growth rate will be achieved,
- GDP growth slipped from 7.7% in the first half of 2016-17 to 6.5% in the second half.
- The slowdown in GDP indicators predated the demonetization of high-value banknotes in November, but intensified in the post-demonetization period.
- Structural reforms such as the goods and services tax (GST) and a larger tax base in the aftermath of demonetization may boost economic growth in the medium term.
- India is undergoing a structural shift toward low inflation, mostly due to changing dynamics in the oil market, which has capped upside risk, according to the Survey.
- On the impact of demonetization, the Survey said it had increased demand for social insurance such as the rural job guarantee scheme, particularly in less developed states.
- The first volume of the Economic Survey released in January had projected the economy to grow in the range of 6.75-7.5% in 2017-18 against 7.1% in 2016-17.
Short term challenges:
- Fiscal tightening by state governments due to farm loan waivers.
- Appreciating Rupee
- Tight monetary policy
- Declining profitability in the power and telecom sectors
- Boost investment and exports
- Clean up bank balance sheets
- Monetary policy easing
- Privatize laggard public sector banks
‘Ease norms for airlines to fly abroad’: (The Hindu)
The economic survey has asked the government to build airline hubs in India which could compete with the hubs in the UAE and South East Asia that were taking away Indian traffic to the US and Europe from domestic carriers.
- The second volume of the Economic Survey 2016-17 released on Friday.
- It has also recommended “committed action plan on divestment of Air India to enhance its operational and management efficiency”.
- The Survey has suggested a mix of protectionism for domestic airlines and liberal norms for flying abroad to bolster their share in international air traffic.
- As per the survey estimates about 38% people fly in and out of India through Indian carriers as per estimates for January-March 2017.
- Indian domestic airlines have a very low share in international traffic to and from India
- The Survey said that the government should focus on building its own aviation hubs as “India is an advantageously placed in terms of geographic location as Dubai or Singapore.”
- It noted that the capacity entitlement between Dubai and India have increased sixfold between 2003 and 2017.
- It increased nine-fold in the case of Oman and 12-fold in the case of Qatar.
- The Survey pointed out that the o/20 rule to allow for overseas operations should be further diluted.
- In its 2016 policy, the government had diluted the contentious ‘5/20 rule’ that required an Indian airline to have five years of domestic flying experience and 20 aircraft in its fleet before it could fly to overseas destinations.
- According to the present norm, known as the 0/20 rule, a domestic airline needs to deploy at least 20 planes in the domestic sector before getting the right to fly on international routes from India.
- Factors like foreign airlines utilizing the sixth freedom of the air, expansion of capacity entitlements under bilateral air service agreements with foreign countries, lower utilization of India’s own capacity entitlement, the 0/20 rule and fleet constraints are responsible for the same.
- Sixth freedom is the bilateral air traffic right to fly from a foreign country to another foreign country while stopping in one’s own country.
- For example, Emirates operates flights between India and the U.K. while stopping at Dubai, its home state.
- Sixth freedom traffic constituted 61.14% of the total international traffic in 2015-16, increasing from 59.15% in 2014-15.
- The Survey said this had reduced the share of direct, long-haul flight for Indian carriers form 25% in 2011-12 to 20.5% in 2015-16.
‘Unstable power, a big barrier in India’: (The Hindu)
Japan said unstable power supply was among the biggest investment barriers in India.
- The comment comes ahead of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s India visit next month during which bilateral discussions on cooperation in energy sector would get priority.
- Japanese Ambassador to India Kenji Hiramatsu, said “Japan had committed to develop mega-industrial corridors and high-speed rail network in India through financial aid and technology transfer.
- He was speaking at the inauguration of a solar power plant at Neemrana in Rajasthan.
- The plant is part of the $1000 billion-Delhi Mumbai Industrial Corridor (DMIC) project.
- The plant is set up with the Japanese government’s help.
- The DMIC is an initiative under the ‘Japan-India Special Strategic Partnership’
- These projects would require uninterruptible power supply
- Hiramatsu cited the example of Mikul Corporation (a Japanese company) operating in Neemrana and manufacturing critical auto-components that directly affect automobile’s performance and safety.
- The problem of unstable power grid is one of the biggest investment barriers in India.
- Japanese system using solar cells and micro-grid control technology could provide solution this problem
- Both the countries can cooperate in areas such as environmental equipment for coal thermal power plant, grid stabilization, and pump up storage hydropower, smart telecommunication tower, solar irrigation pumps and bio-fuels.
- Japan also wants Japanese solar cells to be used on rooftop of building in India’s densely populated areas.
- Efforts are on to expedite the Mumbai-Ahmedabad high-speed rail corridor-being developed with Japanese help.
- “As part of the Japanese Industrial zones, work is on to set up townships with residential accommodation, educational institutes, playgrounds, hospitals, and other necessary social infrastructure for the Japanese” , the Ambassador said.
System lighter by ₹3.5 lakh crore of cash: Survey: (The Hindu)
Demonetisation has reduced Rs 3.5 lakh crore of cash from the amounts available in the system before, and digitization has increased across the board, even among the poor, according to second volume of the Economic Survey
- The second volume of Economic Survey, tabled in Parliament of Friday, noted that while the informal sector suffered initially from demonetization, all indicators, such as two-wheeler sales and demand for MGNREGA work, had returned to normal.
- The survey found that while the number of income tax returns had increased sharply, the average income declared had not risen commensurately.
- There seems to have been a sharp and equilibrium decline in the use of cash as of July, the holding of cash is about Rs 3.5 lakh crore (20%) less than what might have been the case had pre-demonetisation trends prevailed, consistent with the calculations presented in volume I.
- A definitive judgement can only be passed if current levels of cash relative to GDP persist over time but, so far, reliance on cash appears to have declined sharply.
- The report also said that the effect of demonetization on the digitization of transactions can be divided into three categories: the poor (who are largely outside the digital economy), the less affluent sections (who have acquired Jan Dhan accounts and RuPay cards), and the affluent (who are fully digitally integrated via debit and credit cards).
- There has been a substantial increase in digitization across all categories
- The growth of taxpayer’s post-demonetisation was significantly greater than in the previous year (45% versus 25%).
- The addition amounted to about 5.4 lakh taxpayer or 1% of all individual taxpayers in just a few months.
- The average income reported of the new taxpayers Rs 2.7 lakh was not far above the tax threshold of Rs 2.5 lakh, so the immediate impact on tax collections was muted.
- The survey analyzed the effect of demonetization on the informal sector.
- A proxy for the informal sector effects is two-wheeler sales, which showed a rapid decline following demonetization but has, after more than six month, almost returned to pre-demonetisation levels.
- The survey analysis show that while demonetization resulted in a contraction in demand for MGNREGA work in the first four weeks following demonetisaton, demand normalized by the tenth week and subsequently grew sharply.
- This effect was prominent for less developed states, which saw a 63% increase in demand for MGNREGA work after the tenth week,
- Demonetisation will have long-term benefits and that long term will still depend on what happens in the next one, two or three years, but early signs of potential benefits can be seen.
- The Reserve Bank of Indian and the government have substantially overachieved on inflation.
- By March 2018, the country would be well within the inflation target and average inflation for the year as a whole would be well below target.
- Real interest rates are rising and are high, exchange rates are appreciating. So both from the domestic side on monetary policy and the external side, by exchange rates, there is a possibility of a greater drag on growth.
- There are various steps taken with medium-term benefits but the real challenge now is short term growth.
No level playing field: (The Hindu, Editorial)
- The Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code, 2016 has enough loopholes to close down businesses instead of assisting entrepreneurs.
Objectives of the code:
1.The Code aims to mend laws relating to reorganisation and insolvency resolution of corporate persons, partnership firms, and individuals.
2.It attempts to ease the process of recovery of money by operational and financial creditors in a timely manner and places the onus on professionals to put forth resolution plans within 180 days.
3.It seeks to ensure that there is neither scope for any further claims by the creditors, except through the Code’s mechanisms, nor for the corporate debtor to challenge the claims made by the creditor.
1.It fails to provide adequate safeguards to protect the rights of the company before handing over the management in its entirety to the resolution professional.
2.At various stages of admission of the insolvency proceedings, of appointing the insolvency professional, of finalising the resolution plan the Code fails to provide any opportunity to the corporate debtor to make a representation, at the very least.
3.The Code is also deficient in providing a standard for the qualification of the interim and of the final insolvency resolution professionals.
4.It is also shocking that the Code prohibits withdrawal of the application once the same has been admitted.
- This means that there is no scope whatsoever for settlement.
5.Further, the unrestricted access of any person without mandatory contractual obligations in relation to confidentiality violates the fundamental right to business under Article 19(1)(g).
- All this shows that the Code still requires a lot of hand-holding by the judiciary to put in place adequate safeguards and guidelines to ensure its smooth, effective, and fair enforcement.
Risks to growth: (The Hindu, Editorial)
- Five months after the Economic Survey 2016-17 was released, Chief Economic Adviser (CEA) Arvind Subramanian has presented the second volume of the annual economic review-cum-prognosticatory report.
- There was a clear need to update and refresh outcomes and forecasts due to recent policy developments, including the momentous roll-out of the Goods and Services Tax.
Highlight of the Report:
- While Volume I had projected the gross domestic product expansion in 2017-18 in a range of 6.75-7.5%, the CEA has taken cognisance of several new factors and observed that the balance of risks seem to have shifted to the downside with a far lower likelihood of growth being “closer to the upper end.
- On the impact of GST, the CEA has pointed out that besides its long-term structural benefits, the implementation of the GST would straightaway provide a short-term impetus by easing a cross-country logistics constraint following the removal of checkposts. However, the transitional challenges from the actual operation of the new indirect tax regime could retard growth momentum.
- The companies in the power and telecom sectors have to contend with the increasing stress to balance sheets.
- The CEA has stressed agriculture and farm income and recommended that the farm loan waivers and agricultural stress the growth outlook.
- CEA recommended that remunerative and stable support prices can help ensure that the risk of wild swings in the production and prices of farm produce is obviated, thus protecting both farmers and consumers.
- The survey posits that as part of the government’s remedial responses “policy must be driven by the recognition that, over longer horizons, there is no necessary opposition between farmer and consumer interests.
- The CEA recommend that the “time is also ripe to consider whether direct support to farmers can be a more effective way to boost farm incomes.
- Quick and considerable monetary easing by the RBI — with policy rates cut to about 4.25-5.25% from the current 6% — could help the economy approach full potential and aid in resolving the issue of stressed balance sheets.
- According to CEA, the outlook for growth in the current financial year has clearly turned more sombre. The CEA has taken also considered the possible risks and noted that it is going to be hard to find a ‘magic bullet’ fix that encompasses most of the concerns.