Gist of The Hindu: March 2013

Gist of The Hindu: March 2013


  • No deal on Parchin; Iran-P5+1 talks to Continue

  • The New Approach

  • Polio free does not Mean Paralysis Free

  • Formula to Identify “Inviolate” Forest Areas where Mining will be Banned

  • Fast growth, Limited Results

  • Work to begin in Ladakh on World’s Largest Solar Telescope

  • A Setback

  • For an India-led Security Architecture in South Asia

  • Intemperate Comments

  • About China

  • How Good Economics can Fuel Populist Politics

  • Prudent Economic Decision

  • Pushing Africa Aside in Mali

  • India, Bangladesh sign Extradition Treaty


U.N. experts returned from Tehran on Friday without sealing a long-sought deal on Parchin.This could restart suspicion that Iran worked on atomic armsand add to doubts about success of the upcoming Iran-P5+1 talks. Herman Nackaerts, who headed the team of International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) experts, said the two sides would meet again in the Iranian capital on February 12. But even if those talks make progress, they will come too late for an Iran-P5+1 meeting, tentatively scheduled for the end of this month.


It took 40 (and more) years for the Telugu speakers of Madras Presidency to make the Tamils see the sense of the demand for Andhra Pradesh. The Telangana movement is already 40 (and more) years old; and it still hasn’t quite achieved what it aimed for. Before the General Elections of 2004, the Telangana Rashtra Samiti allied with the Congress, which informally promised it would concede the TRS’ main demand, while formally stating that it would create a States Reorganisation Commission if voted to power. The Congress alliance came to power in 2004, but a new SRC did not materialise. This led to a renewal of the protests, whereupon, in December 2009, the then Home Minister, P. Chidambaram, promised that the demand for Telangana would soon be granted. But he quickly backtracked. More recently, the Bharatiya Janata Party has said that it would create a Telangana state within 100 days of coming to power at the Centre. As with the Congress in 2004, this promise may be opportunistic rather than principled — intended only to gain votes and seats for its alliance. Writing as both historian and citizen — is that while linguistic states were necessary in the first, early, stages of Indian independence, it may now be time for a further reorganisation of states. The proponents of Telangana, Vidharbha, and Gorkhaland all have a robust case.Their regions are well defined in an ecological and cultural sense, and have historically been neglected by the more powerful or richer parts of the State. Likewise, Uttar Pradesh is far too large to be administered as a single unit. Breaking it up into three or four states would lead to more effective and focused governance.

After 65 testing years of independence, there need no longer be any fear about the unity of India. The country is not about to Balkanise, nor is it about to become a dictatorship. The real problems in India today have to do with the quality of governance. Smaller states may be one way to address this problem.


In India, philanthropy is an ancient and venerable tradition. Apart from directly helping the poor and the underprivileged, people have always offered money to religious organisations, which in turn run orphanages, hospitals, and educational institutions. Even the poor are engaged in philanthropy by devoting a proportion of their income directly or indirectly to the needy. In the last century, the trusts created by some prominent families formally organised giving, both by setting up institutions linked to the trusts, and by offering assistance to unaffiliated organisations. Formal giving thus transformed India’s institutional landscape, leading to the creation of some of the country’s finest institutions. The phenomenal increase of wealth in India over the last few decades has reinvigorated philanthropy. Although, our economic, social, political, and environmental problems continue to worsen, “new” philanthropists can play a critical role in improving the human condition in our society


Philanthropy in India has a number of targets: poverty, social and economic inequity, injustice, health, education and the environment, to name a few. Indeed, problems in these sectors are enormous and complex, and progress in their resolution calls for focused and sustained efforts. However, our deteriorating environment and declining natural resources receive proportionately less attention than other areas.

Unfortunately, our present environmental problems are acute and worsening. Air quality is declining, water is becoming scarce, land is being degraded, soils are losing their organic matter, and biodiversity is diminishing. We have a huge and unique biodiversity. At the beginning of the last century, perhaps 50 per cent of our land area was covered by natural habitats. Today, it is less than 20 per cent. The value of biodiversity and associated ecosystem services, when translated into monetary terms, exceed the total annual Gross Domestic Product. The ecosystem services include water regulation, carbon sequestration, and provision of pollinators for agriculture, enemies of insect pests, and a vast range of products. They offer spiritual and aesthetic enrichment — yet they are universally taken for granted, considered “free” by society, and suffer benign neglect.

With ongoing climate change, it is the state of the environment that will determine the fate of human societies in the 21st century, and not merely our ability to clothe, feed, find shelter, combat disease and educate ourselves. Diminishing biodiversity and degradation of habitats exact a heavy toll on rural communities, for whom local ecosystem resources sustain livelihoods. There are hundreds of millions of such people in our country. The Naxalite movement that has spread over much of India represents a long and bitter struggle of indigenous peoples for rights over their environmental assets, and frustrations over a development process gone awry. Yet, with a few exceptions, the ecosystems themselves, or the people dependent upon them, do not appear to be on the radar of “new” Indian philanthropy.


An implicit goal of philanthropy is social transformation: the engagement of civil society to resolve complex problems when the state or its agents lack resources or the means to bring about change. One can try to transform society oneself, or one can support new institutions that will be fully qualified for and engaged in the process of transformation. A diversity of institutions, often with overlapping missions, enriches ideas and approaches to address problems. India’s vast geographic scale, its ethnic and cultural diversity and its aspirations as a model pluralistic society also require a diverse array of institutions, but the record of the “new” Indian philanthropists in creating and supporting new and emerging institutions, with a few exceptions, has not yet been stellar.

While a few older foundations, such as the Tata Trusts, have been run as purely donor agencies, the approach of the “new” Indian philanthropists has been more ambivalent, indicating a sense of wanting to fix things themselves. More often, foundation resources are devoted to direct implementation of specific projects dear to the heart of the founder. In several cases it is the attempt to alleviate poverty, improve health, or primary education in particular areas. More recently, such projects have taken the shape of private universities. These are all noble causes, clearly worthy of support, and it is to the credit of the “new” philanthropists that such initiatives for the betterment of society are increasing at a rapid pace.

Lacking for the most part, though, are grantmaking programmes that benefit specialist institutions and organisations that can foster new ideas and innovations. The contrast with the situation in the United States, where professionals run the private foundations and income is disbursed in the form of grants is instructive. The system fosters a diverse array of ideas, institutions, and approaches to flourish and compete. The thousands of grantees — institutions and individuals — become agents of long-lasting change. The good news is that many “bright stars” on the institutional skyscape in India are young, innovative environmental organisations receiving good support from some “new” philanthropists. As philanthropy and its vibrant non-governmental organisations mature in India, hundreds if not thousands of such stars will shine — together forging a better environment and a just society.

Y.V. Reddy to Head 14th Finance Commission

The government, announced the constitution of the 14th Finance Commission under the chairmanship of former RBI Governor Y. V. Reddy. The five-member panel is to submit its report by October 31, 2014. Apart from its recommendations on the sharing of tax proceeds between the Centre and the States which will apply for a five-year period beginning April 1, 2015, the Commission has been asked to suggest steps for pricing of public utilities such as electricity and water in an independent manner and also look into issues like disinvestment, GST compensation, sale of non-priority PSUs and subsidies. Apart from Dr. Reddy in the chair, other members of the Commission are former Finance Secretary Sushma Nath, NIPFP Director M. Govinda Rao, Planning Commission Member Abhijit Sen and Former Acting Chairman of National Statistical Commission Sudipto Mundle.

The Commission, the Finance Minister said, would review the state of finances, deficit and debt levels of the Centre and States, keeping in view, in particular, the fiscal consolidation roadmap recommended by the 13th Finance Commission.

Besides, the 14th Finance Commission would suggest measures for maintaining a stable and sustainable fiscal environment consistent with equitable growth.

Rangarajan Panel Suggests Average of Global Prices for Gas

The Prime Minister-appointed Rangarajan Committee has suggested mandating a price of domestically-produced natural gas at an average of international hub prices and cost of imported LNG instead of the present mechanism of market discovery.

The panel, in its report made public, suggested first taking an average of the U.S., Europe and Japanese hub or market price and then averaging it out with the netback price of imported liquefied natural gas (LNG) to give the sale price of domestically-produced gas.The panel headed by C. Rangarajan, Chairman, Economic Advisory Council to the Prime Minister, said the PSC provided for arm’s length pricing and prior government approval of the formula or basis for gas pricing, subject to policy on natural gas pricing. “The committee recommended deriving one price from “the volume-weighted netback price to producers at (LNG) exporting country well-head for Indian imports for the trailing 12 months.”

Polio free does not Mean Paralysis Free

Identifying children who suddenly display muscle weakness, often not moving one or more of their limbs as a result, forms the cornerstone of polio surveillance. Such children could have “acute flaccid paralysis” (AFP) that is symptomatic of polio, a disease caused by a virus. But AFP can also arise for other reasons, including infection by non-polio pathogens.

No child in India has been diagnosed with polio for nearly two years now and all the indications are that the virus responsible for it is no longer circulating here. However, the country’s polio surveillance system has indicated a sharp increase during recent years in the number of non-polio AFP cases.

Alarming Data

Data published by the World Health Organisation show that close to 8,000 non-polio AFP cases were identified in India during 2003. They went up to over 12,000 the following year, more than 26,000 in 2005 and crossed 40,000 by 2007. In 2011, there were more than 60,000 non-polio AFP cases.

A good polio surveillance system ought to pick up all AFP cases among children so that they can be screened for poliovirus infection. On average, only about one child out of every 200 children carrying the poliovirus develops AFP. Such cases must be identified so that appropriate immunisation measures can be undertaken.

India’s polio surveillance shows that the country is polio-free. But it also indicates that the country now has the world’s highest rate of non-polio AFP cases. According to data published in WHO’s Weekly Epidemiological Record , India’s annualised non-polio AFP rate for 2011 stood at 15.06 per one lakh children below 15 years of age, compared to a global rate that year of 5.48. Moreover, most of the country’s non-polio AFP cases occur in just two States — Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. They accounted for about 61 per cent of the 53,000-odd non-polio AFP cases identified in the country in 2012, according to data from WHO’s National Polio Surveillance Project. As a result, the two States have far higher annualised non-polio AFP rates than other States — around 34 for Bihar and about 23 for Uttar Pradesh. The rate for the country as a whole is slightly over 12.

Internet Tax, a Flawed Idea

“We’ve become the bad gatekeepers,” lamented Sunil Mittal, CEO, Bharti Airtel. “When somebody watches YouTube on a mobile and ends up [with a] big bill, he curses under his breath at telecom operators. But YouTube is consuming a massive amount of resources on our network. Somebody’s got to pay for that.”

What Mittal suggested at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona last year, and is gaining rapid popularity with service providers around the world, was an “inter-connect charge”, an effective Internet tax that would force companies such as Google and Facebook to pay network operators a levy similar to the termination fee that networks pay one another to complete a voice call. This growing clamour for an Internet tax was obliquely backed by the Government at a U.N conference, held last month.

The advantages for both telecom operators such as Airtel, and the Government (which too might look to levy a similar tax) are immediate and obvious. Telcos, which dole out huge investment for spectrum and network infrastructure, will be able to get a bigger slice of what goes to companies such as Google. This is exactly the new source of revenue that operators, which are suffering from shrinking revenue and rising costs, have been waiting for.

Underwater Missile takes off Successfully

India achieved a major milestone by establishing underwater missile launch capability when K-15 missile, code-named B05, was successfully test-fired off the Visakhapatnam coast. The 10-metre-high Submarine-Launched Ballistic Missile (SLBM), lifted off from a pontoon as it was ejected by a gas generator, rose to an altitude of 20 km and reached its full range of 700 km before splashing down in the waters of the Bay of Bengal with single-digit accuracy.

With the completion of developmental trials, the missile is now ready for integration with INS Arihant, the indigenously-built nuclear-powered submarine. In the coming years, India will have four nuclear-powered submarines. Besides Arihant, a nuclear-powered submarine is being built at the Visakhapatnam Naval Dock Yard and the hulls of two other submarines are under fabrication in Vadodara, Gujarat. India is the fifth country to have underwater missile capability. The other nations are the United States, France, Russia and China. On the development of the K-4 missile with a range of 3,000 km, he said that as was done in the case of the Agni family of missiles, a series of underwater K-series missiles would be developed.

Once integration was completed, Arihant would carry 12 nuclear-tipped missiles, each weighing six tonnes. The submarine would be powered by an 80 MWt (thermal) reactor that uses enriched uranium as fuel and light water as coolant and moderator. Meanwhile, sources in the Department of Atomic Energy said the 80MWt reactor would be commissioned in May or June 2013 as various tests were under way. “The harbour trials of Arihant would begin when the on-board reactor goes critical and starts producing steam.” For the tests under way, the steam was being produced from an external source from the land.

The hypersonic Shourya missile is the land version of the K-15 missile and the trials of the system have been completed. Shourya can be launched from canister too and the Army is thinking of placing orders for the missile. A DRDO official, who watched the K-15 launch on Sunday from a nearby ship, called the missile “a deadly deterrent,” which would be armed with a nuclear warhead. Home-grown GPS ‘Gagan’ likely by 2014. India will launch this year the first of its series of navigation satellites required to provide regional navigation service, independent of the U.S.-controlled GPS (Global Positioning System).

Europe, Russia and China were either having or evolving their own navigation services independent of the GPS. The Indian Space Research Organisation too was planning to evolve indigenous navigation service to provide enhanced and more precise navigation. To provide this service, to be christened ‘Gagan,’ India needed to launch a number of satellites and the first of this series, the Indian Regional Navigation Satellite System (IRNSS), would be launched by the PSLV C-22 rocket, probably in the second half of this year. After all the required satellites were launched, India would be in a position to provide navigation service through ‘Gagan’ probably in 2014.

Formula to Identify “Inviolate” Forest Areas where Mining will be Banned

In what seems to be a successor to the controversial “no-go zone” concept, mining and other harmful non-forestry activities could soon be completely banned from forest areas identified as “inviolate”, using a formula created by a high-level Environment Ministry panel.

Wildlife sanctuaries, tiger reserves, national parks – as well as a buffer zone of one km around such protected areas – compact patches of very dense forest, the last remnant of a forest type and forests very near perennial rivers will all be automatically placed within the inviolate zone, according to a report of the Committee to Formulate Objective Parameters for Identification of Inviolate Forest Areas.

The panel was formed in the wake of the demise of the “no-go zone” approach, conceptualised by the former Environment Minister, Jairam Ramesh, which identified dense forest areas in nine major coal fields where forest clearances would be denied. Following intense pressure from the mining industry and the Coal Ministry, a ministerial group headed by then-Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee vetoed the idea. However, in September 2011, the group of Ministers suggested that “identified pristine forest areas, where any mining activity would lead to irreversible damage, should be barred from any kind of non-forest activity.” Accordingly, the Environment Ministry, now headed by Jayanthi Natarajan, formed a panel to formulate parameters to identify such “inviolate” forest areas.

The panel submitted a report in July 2012, but the Ministry only made it public on Thursday. The next step is to actually prepare geo-referenced maps of inviolate areas using this formula. Apart from the automatic exclusions mentioned earlier, the formula calls for scoring of forest areas based on six principles: forest type, biological richness, wildlife value, forest cover, landscape integrity and hydrological value. The country will be divided into grids of one square kilometre each, which will be scored, mostly using existing data. An average score above 70, out of a possible 100, will also be declared inviolate.

Recycle Grey Water

UN-Habitat has commenced a new global consultation to reiterate the crucial role of wastewater management in the water cycle and explore policy options for a sustainable future. These consultations have also become necessary to set a future goal for water use, particularly for the years following 2015, which is the target year for the Millennium Development Goals. For India — a severely water-stressed region — this offers an opportunity to reflect on its policies and draw lessons from best practices across the world. The core challenge facing the country is the yawning gap between demand for water and the severely constrained supply.
From 813 billion cubic metres — the figure for 2010 — demand is set to reach 1,093 BCM by 2025. Conventional resources alone cannot meet this steep increase. There is a pressing need to explore alternative sources. In this context, policymakers have done well to promote water harvesting to improve supply. But they have utterly failed when it comes to reusing water. Industrial scale recycling would help, but it could be expensive. On the other hand, the often overlooked building level reuse of grey water — wastewater from kitchen sinks, showers and laundry fixtures — is a more effective strategy to pursue.

According to a Centre for Science and Environment estimate in 2011, kitchen use, shower and laundry consume more than 70 per cent of the 920 litres of water supplied per household per day. Building systems seldom trap this wastewater for non-potable use such as toilet flushing, fire fighting and gardening. Instead, they drain it out along with sewage, burdening the system. More important, the precious water is lost. In contrast, countries such as Japan extensively recycle water and successfully tide over their water deficit. Through a combination of strategies involving small treatment plants and closed loop water supply at building level, Japan reuses more than 53 million litres of water every day. In addition, innovative bathroom fixtures conduct used sink water directly to the flush tank of the toilet and save about 22,000 gallons every year.
Recycling needs changes to plumbing arrangements in a building, but it is not hard to implement or monitor. What is missing is the will and regulatory framework. Cities such as Nanded have amended their building rules to make wastewater treatment in large buildings compulsory, but such provisions are present more on paper than in practice. If policymakers are serious about increasing water use efficiency through recycling — a goal set by the National Water Mission — buildings should be compelled to meet most of their non-potable water requirement through grey water reuse.

Fast growth, Limited Results

Yet, in a recent essay, the eminent economists Amartya Sen and Jean Drèze pointed to an important problem with equating India’s economic performance with its GDP growth rate. They noted:
“There is probably no other example in the history of world development of an economy growing so fast for so long with such limited results in terms of broad-based social progress.” Sen and Drèze were referring to the fact that for about 32 years now (since 1980), India has averaged annual GDP growth rates of approximately six per cent — whereas, the nation’s ranking in terms of the Human Development Index has remained unchanged over that period: we were ranked an abysmal 134 in 1980, we were ranked exactly that in 2011. In 1980, about 80 per cent of our population subsisted on less than two dollars a day, and that percentage has declined by as little as five per cent since then.

Comparable growth rates sustained over similar lengths of time have utterly transformed societies in the 20th century: South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, and large parts of China, to mention the most prominent ones. They have gone from largely poor, illiterate and agrarian societies to middle class, literate, urbanised and industrial societies with standards of living vastly superior to ours. Whatever may be said about India, it is obvious that no structural transformation of our largely poverty-stricken economy has occurred and what is more, none seems very likely in the immediate future.

Not only have three decades of high GDP growth gone unaccompanied by a societal transformation, we seem to have regressed on certain fronts. For instance, while India ranked either first or second in 1980 within South Asia (defined here as comprising India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and Bhutan) on most yardsticks such as life expectancy, female literacy, infant mortality, maternal mortality ratio, improved sanitation, child immunisation, and mean years of schooling, today we are ranked either fifth or last among the South Asian nations on these same yardsticks. Ironically, the only indicator in which we have done well is in the rate of GDP growth per annum.

A country like Bangladesh, whose annual GDP growth rate has averaged about half that of India’s over these years, has done vastly better in terms of translating that growth to the quality of life for its poor, its young, and its females. On most yardsticks that matter, Bangladesh now outperforms India. That 30 years of more than twice the much-disparaged “Hindu” rate of growth has left us at the absolute rock-bottom of the world tables in terms of malnourished children (44 per cent at the last count — significantly more than that anchor of all things sorry and sad about this world, sub-Saharan Africa whose percent of underweight children is 25 per cent) should tell us that there is something seriously amiss about looking at the annual growth rate of the GDP to measure the well-being of a society.

On Demographic Dividend

The Goldman Sachs report argued that by the year 2050, if Brazil, Russia, Indian and China grew at a certain rate per annum, they would be among the world’s six largest economies in terms of overall size.
This does not tell us anything about either per capita incomes (in terms of which these countries would remain well behind the more affluent nations) or the quality of life of the majority of people therein. The report based its projections mainly on something called the “demographic dividend.” In simple terms, “young” societies like India and China have a disproportionately large percentage of people in the workforce relative to those outside it. The size of the working-age cohort is central to the overall attractiveness of an economy from the perspective of an investment bank like Goldman Sachs because it is likely to be in the market for all sorts of goods — homes, automobiles, appliances, electronics, cosmetics, fast-food, etc. The working-age cohorts’ employment earnings, moreover, can support a social security net for those who have retired and now have to subsist on pensions and savings.

On a comparative yardstick, India’s demographic profile was seen by the BRIC report as most favourable because this ratio of working to non-working populations would remain in favour of the former well into the 21st century in our case.

In the euphoria over the BRIC report (it was the basis for the disastrous “India Shining” campaign of the Bharatiya Janata Party; the same projections were echoed in speeches by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Union Finance Minister Chidambaram, Deputy Chairman of the Central Planning Commission Montek Ahluwalia; and they were quoted ad nauseam in the mainstream media) certain basic facts were glossed over.
Firstly, the GDP is a statistic from within the field of National Accounts whose very definition indicates its limited ambit: it is the total market value of all final goods and services produced in a country in a given year. In other words, it is a statistic that measures the quantity, not the quality or content, of economic activity in a society. When a country liberalises — either domestically as India began to do in 1980 or across its international borders as we began after 1991 — the increased volume of production, investment, trade and market exchanges will inevitably result in an increase in the GDP.

To infer from the growth in GDP any consequences for societal welfare is not logical. The GDP’s precursor was devised during the Depression of the 1930s as western governments (in Britain and the United States most prominently) tried to get a handle on the basic statistics of the different sectors of their economies in order to plan state policies to get them out of recession and on to growth. Simon Kuznets and John Maynard Keynes, both pioneers in its creation and measurement, warned against confusing GDP with anything other than a measure of the sum of economic activity of a society, and especially against confounding it with societal welfare. Something like the Exxon Valdez disaster in Alaska will inevitably increase the GDP as the massive clean-up means billions of dollars will be spent, whereas the environmental impact of that disaster did nothing to diminish the GDP of the U.S. as damage to nature is rendered an externality. On the other hand, the positive impact of people in a community bartering or exchanging services (“I’ll baby sit for you this week while you fix the leak in my roof”) goes unregistered on the GDP metric.

Secondly, the BRIC report emerged not from an academic body or a policy think-tank. It came from an investment bank that was interested in getting people to put their money into a newly created “Emerging Market” fund. Creating a buzz about these economies, and finding some hard nugget or fact that seemed to suggest their fortunes were on the rise, is an inevitable part of the marketing of such funds. The “demographic dividend” argument offered a perfect empirical “fact” of just this sort.

The extrapolations into the future (projections were made as far as 2030 and even 2050) by a firm that could not foresee (and was in fact a substantial culprit in) the financial crisis that engulfed the world economy barely four years later were essentially meaningless. It was moreover a tautological argument in the sense that given the overall size of the BRIC economies it was inevitable that their GDPs would over time end up being among the largest in the world. The greater the buzz Goldman Sachs could create about the BRIC economies, the likelier the “success” of their Emerging Market funds in the short run, which added to their profits as the firm made money off every transaction therein.

The Goldman Sachs report should have been assessed as advertising copy rather than as unbiased prognostication about the future of the world economy. (By the late 2000s, as the BRIC economies with the exception of China failed to perform to expectations, Goldman Sachs had already lost interest in them and had started promoting MIST, another emerging market fund based on Mexico, Indonesia, South Korea and Turkey. The analogy to advertising sloganeering rather than economic analysis should be obvious to anyone here.)

Thirdly, for India (or any society) to realise its demographic dividend, at least three factors are critical: its youth need (a) quality education, (b) good health, and (c) jobs that pay a decent wage and enhance their intellectual and other skills. The story of India’s post-independence development has been one of failure across all three of these sectors, and the picture has not improved post the economic liberalisation initiated in 1991. Recent studies have confirmed what every Indian already knows: the quality of public education at the primary and secondary levels has been abysmal. In large part this is because since 1947 we have emphasised tertiary education for a narrow middle-class and elite, and underinvested in primary and secondary education for the masses.

We have already seen that with the highest rate of malnourishment of children below the age of six in the entire world, and a public health infrastructure that exists more on paper than on the ground, especially outside the cities, large segments of our populace are not in good health. The difficulty of getting clean water, the unavailability of toilets, and decrepit or non-existent sewage systems, have also meant high incidence of preventable diseases like cholera, typhoid, and dysentery. And when it comes to jobs, recent decades of high growth, especially since 2000, have been accompanied by either stagnation or even decline in the absolute numbers of those employed in the organised sector of the economy.

Unlike Korea or Taiwan or China (all three of whom also had a thoroughgoing land reform that eliminated landlordism and other feudal holdovers) whose growth was concentrated initially in relatively labour-intensive sectors such as manufacturing, ours has been skewed heavily towards skill- and education-intensive sectors like Information Technology, pharmaceuticals, and business process outsourcing.

The performance in these sectors has been stellar in terms of exports and their contribution to the GDP, but not in terms of their ability to generate large numbers of jobs. Twenty years after the onset of the phenomenal IT boom, even with the most expansive definition of its ambit, this sector only employs about nine million Indians while India produces about 13 million new entrants into the job market every year .

140 Countries Agree on Treaty to Limit Mercury Use

  • Delegations from some 140 countries agreed to adopt a ground-breaking treaty limiting the use and emission of health-hazardous mercury, the U.N. said, though environmental activists lamented it did not go far enough.

  • The world’s first legally binding treaty on mercury, reached after a week of thorny talks, will aim to reduce global emission levels of the toxic heavy metal, also known as quicksilver, which poses risks to human health and the environment.

  • “This was a herculean task ... but we have succeeded,” Achim Steiner, U.N. Under-Secretary General and head of the U.N. Environment Programme (UNEP), told reporters in Geneva.

  • The treaty has been named the Minamata Convention on Mercury, in honour of the Japanese town where inhabitants for decades have suffered the consequences of serious mercury contamination.

  • The text will be signed in Minamata in October and will take effect once it has been ratified by 50 countries — something organisers expect will take three to four years.

  • Mercury is found in products ranging from electrical switches, thermometers and light-bulbs, to amalgam dental fillings and even facial creams. Large amounts of the heavy metal are released from small-scale gold mining, coal-burning power plants, metal smelters and cement production.

  • “It is quite remarkable how much mercury in a sense has entered into use in our lives.... We’ve been creating a terrible legacy”

  • The treaty sets a phase out date of 2020 for a long line of products, including mercury thermometers, blood pressure measuring devices, most batteries, switches, some kinds of fluorescent lamps and soaps and cosmetics. It, however, provides exceptions for some large medical measuring devices where no mercury-free alternatives exist.

  • Switzerland and Norway, which initiated the process a decade ago, had along with Japan pledged an initial $3 million to get things started.

  • Once up and running the treaty will provide funds to help transition away from mercury-linked products and processes through the U.N.’s Global Environment Facility (GEF), and probably also a second mechanism, organisers said.

Work to begin in Ladakh on World’s Largest Solar Telescope

  • Work on the world’s largest solar telescope is likely to commence in the Ladakh region of Jammu and Kashmir by the end of this year.

  • Once ready, it would be one of the few solar telescope facilities in the world with a capability to do both day and night astronomy. It would also fill the longitude gap between Japan and Europe.

  • The innovative design and backend instruments would further enable observations with an unprecedented high spatial resolution that would provide crucial information on the nature of magnetic fields.

  • Satellites in low earth orbit face greater risk as during periods of heightened solar activity, the earth’s upper atmosphere swells up slightly in response to the extra heating, which in turn increases the rate of decay of these satellites.

Why a National Water Framework Law

The idea of a national water framework law mooted by the Central government has run into strong opposition from the Chief Ministers of several States. The aim of this article is to clarify the issues involved for the information of the general public.

Alagh Committee

That draft was not adopted by the Ministry of Water Resources, but it did accept the idea , picked up the term ‘framework law’, and set up a new committee to draft the law under the chairmanship of Dr. Y. K. Alagh. That committee has presumably not yet concluded its deliberations, but meanwhile the idea of a national water framework law appears to have been mentioned at a Conference of Water Resources Ministers as well as the recent NDC meeting, and has drawn a negative response. That response is regrettable. A national law on water is very necessary, and it must be a framework law.

Why is a national law on water necessary? There are several reasons.

(1) Under the Indian Constitution water is primarily a State subject, but it is an increasingly important national concern in the context of:

(a) the judicial recognition of the right to water as a part of the fundamental right to life;
(b) the general perception of an imminent water crisis, and the dire and urgent need to conserve this scarce and precious resource;
(c) the severe and intractable inter-use and inter-State conflicts;
(d) the pollution of rivers and other water sources, turning rivers into sewers or poison and contaminating aquifers;
(e) the long-term environmental, ecological and social implications of projects to augment the availability of water for human use;
(f) the equity implications of the distribution, use and control of water;
(g) the international dimensions of some of India’s rivers; and
(h) the emerging concerns about the impact of climate change on water and the need for appropriate responses at local, national, regional, and global levels.

It is clear that the above considerations cast several responsibilities on the Central government, apart from those of the State governments. Given these and other concerns, the need for an overarching national water law is self-evident.

(2) Several States are enacting laws on water and related issues. These can be quite divergent in their perceptions of and approaches to water. Some divergences from State to State may be inevitable and acceptable, but extreme and fundamental divergences will create a very muddled situation. A broad national consensus on certain basics seems very desirable.

(3) Different State governments tend to adopt different legal positions on their rights over the waters of a river basin that straddles more than one State. Such legal divergences tend to render the resolution of inter-State river-water conflicts extremely difficult. A national statement of the general legal position and principles that should govern such cases seems desirable.

(4) Water is one of the most basic requirements for life. If national laws are considered necessary on subjects such as the environment, forests, wildlife, biological diversity, etc., a national law on water is even more necessary. Water is as basic as (if not more basic than) those subjects.

(5) Finally, the idea of a national water law is not something unusual or unprecedented. Many countries in the world have national water laws or codes, and some of them (for instance, the South African National Water Act of 1998) are widely regarded as very enlightened. The considerations behind those national codes or laws are relevant to India as well, although the form of a water law for India will clearly have to be guided by the nature of the Indian Constitution and the specific needs and circumstances of this country.

However, the framework law was intended to be justiciable in the sense that the laws passed and the executive actions taken by the Central and State governments and the devolved functions exercised by PRIs would have to conform to the general principles and priorities laid down in the framework law (on the basis of a national consensus), and that deviations can be challenged in a court of law. The point will become clearer if we think of the proposed national water framework law as something like the Directive Principles of State Policy, but different in the sense that it would be justiciable.

A Setback

This also explains why the Centre was unable to persuade the State governments to accept the idea of a national water framework law. The manner in which the Centre put forward that idea at the Water Resource Ministers’ Conference and the NDC must have given indications of the underlying desire to strengthen the hands of the Centre. In fact, though the Ministry uses the term ‘framework law’, what it has in mind is not really a framework law but a conventional operational one. This must have set the alarm bells ringing in the minds of the Chief Ministers.

Reserve Bank Eases Rules for FII Investment in Debt

  • The Reserve Bank of India (RBI), notified the enhanced limit of investing in government securities (G-Secs) by foreign institutional investors (FIIs) and long-term investors by $5 billion to $25 billion from $20 billion.

  • It also hiked the investment limit in corporate bonds by these entities by $5 billion $50 billion from $45 billion.

  • Long-term investors include SEBI-registered sovereign wealth funds (SWFs), multilateral agencies, endowment funds, insurance funds, pension funds and foreign central banks.

  • The RBI also relaxed some investment rules by removing the maturity restrictions for first time foreign investors on dated G-Secs. Earlier it was mandated that the first time foreign investors of G-Secs must buy securities with at least three-year residual maturity. “But such investments will not be allowed in short-term paper like Treasury Bills,” the RBI added.

  • Further, the central bank has also restricted foreign investors from buying certificates of deposits and commercial paper.

  • In the total corporate debt limit of $50 billion, the RBI stipulated a sub-limit of $25 billion each for infrastructure and other than infrastructure sector bonds. In addition, qualified foreign investors (QFIs) would continue to be eligible to invest in corporate debt securities (without any lock-in or residual maturity clause) and mutual fund debt schemes, subject to a total overall ceiling of $1 billion.

  • “This limit of $1 billion shall continue to be over and above the revised limit of $50 billion for investment in corporate debt,” the RBI added.

  • As a measure of further relaxation, it has been decided to dispense with the condition of one year lock-in period for the limit of $22 billion (comprising the limits of infrastructure bonds of $12 billion and $10 billion for non-resident investment in IDFs) within the overall limit of $25 billion for foreign investment in infrastructure corporate bond.

  • The residual maturity period (at the time of first purchase) requirement for the entire limit of $22 billion for foreign investment in the infrastructure sector has been uniformly kept at 15 months. The five-year residual maturity requirement for investments by QFIs within the $3 billion limit has been modified to three years original maturity.

A Moment of Triumph for Women

The Report of the Committee on Amendments to Criminal Law headed by Justice J.S. Verma is our moment of triumph — the triumph of women’s movements in this country. As with all triumphs, there are always some unrealised possibilities, but these do not detract from the fact of the victory.

Rather than confining itself to criminal law relating to rape and sexual assault, the committee has comprehensively set out the constitutional framework within which sexual assault must be located.

Perhaps more importantly, it also draws out the political framework within which non-discrimination based on sex must be based and focuses on due diligence by the state in order to achieve this as part of its constitutional obligation, with the Preamble interpreted as inherently speaking to justice for women in every clause.

If capabilities are crucial in order that people realise their full potential, this will be an unattainable goal for women till such time as the state is held accountable for demonstrating a commitment to this goal. Performance audits of all institutions of governance and law and order are seen as an urgent need in this direction.

The focus of the entire exercise is on protecting the right to dignity, autonomy and freedom of victims of sexual assault and rape — with comprehensive reforms suggested in electoral laws, policing, criminal laws and the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958, and the provision of safe spaces for women and children. Arguing that “cultural prejudices must yield to constitutional principles of equality, empathy and respect” (p.55), the committee, in a reiteration of the Naaz Foundation judgment, brings sexual orientation firmly within the meaning of “sex” in Article 15, and underscores the right to liberty, dignity and fundamental rights of all persons irrespective of sex or sexual orientation — and the right of all persons, not just women, against sexual assault.

Reviewing leading cases and echoing the critique of Indian women’s groups and feminist legal scholars — whether in the case of Mathura or even the use of the shame-honour paradigm that has trapped victim-survivors in rape trials and in khap panchayats , the committee observes: “…women have been looped into a vicious cycle of shame and honour as a consequence of which they have been attended with an inherent disability to report crimes of sexual offences against them.” In terms of the definition of rape, the committee recommends retaining a redefined offence of “rape” within a larger section on “sexual assault” in order to retain the focus on women’s right to integrity, agency and bodily integrity. Rape is redefined as including all forms of non-consensual penetration of sexual nature (p.111). The offence of sexual assault would include all forms of non-consensual, non-penetrative touching of sexual nature.

Tracing the history of the marital rape exception in the common law of coverture in England and Wales in the 1700s, the committee unequivocally recommends the removal of the marital rape exception as vital to the recognition of women’s right to autonomy and physical integrity irrespective of marriage or other intimate relationship.

Marriage, by this argument, cannot be a valid defence, it is not relevant to the matter of consent and it cannot be a mitigating factor in sentencing in cases of rape. On the other hand, the committee recommended that the age of consent in consensual sex be kept at 16, and other legislation be suitably amended in this regard.

For an India-led Security Architecture in South Asia

India’s neighbours often cite the ‘Bangladesh War’ and the IPKF involvement in Sri Lanka to justify their apprehensions about Indian strategic interests and military reach in the region. In this, they do not acknowledge that it was not Indian plotting that caused the Bangladesh War, but Pakistan’s own failings; and that the IPKF went to Sri Lanka at the request of President J.R. Jayewardene, to be withdrawn equally fast, again at the express wish of his successor President Ranasinghe Premadasa. But India’s smaller neighbours are not as concerned about the reach, if any, of outside powers in the region.

In this sense, the neighbourhood’s concerns about India are distinct from India’s own concerns. For India, the disputes with China — and Pakistan, too — are real, and not just theoretical. In this context, there is some substance in the demand by the Indian strategic community that smaller neighbours should share their security arrangement details with it, particularly if these involved powers from outside the region.

Ultimately, it is India that has to face these arrangements, if it came to that. Indian concerns on this score, at the official level in particular, are clearly independent of New Delhi’s recognition of the sovereign right of individual nations in the neighbourhood to do business of their choosing with partners of their choosing.

None of India’s smaller neighbours has the capacity to ward off extra-territorial security/military intervention. India alone is capable of this.

Hence, the expectation that smaller neighbours should keep India informed and updated about their concerns and arrangements on the geo-strategic front. The ideal, of course, would be for these countries to resist the temptation of inviting extra-territorial players into the region and providing them with political and strategic space. Be it the Hambantota port in Sri Lanka or the GMR issue in Maldives, or Chinese-funded civilian projects in either of these countries or other South-Asian neighbours of India, the strategic community in India is often over-heated with the perception that they have all done business with China behind the New Delhi’s back.

BRICS Countries Agree to Collaborate on Health Issues

Recognising that multi-drug resistant tuberculosis (TB) is a major public health problem in Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa (BRICS) due to its high prevalence and incidence mostly among the marginalised and vulnerable sections of society, the health ministers of these countries on Friday agreed to collaborate and cooperate for development of capacity and infrastructure to deal with the disease.

Adopting Delhi Communique at the end of the two meeting of BRICS nations, the health ministers resolved to reduce the prevalence of TB through innovation for new drugs/vaccine, diagnostics and promotion of consortia of tuberculosis researchers to collaborate on clinical trials of drugs and strengthening access to affordable medicines and delivery of quality care.

The Ministers also agreed to adopt and improve systems for notification of TB patients, availability of anti-TB drugs at facilities by improving supplier performance, procurement systems and logistics and management of HIV-associated tuberculosis in the primary health care. They resolved to share experience and expertise in the areas of surveillance, existing and new strategies to prevent the spread of HIV, and in rapid scale up of affordable treatment.

Importantly, the nations committed to strengthen cooperation to combat malaria through enhanced diagnostics, research and development and to facilitate common access to technologies developed or under development in the BRICS countries.

These nations will also focus on the research and development, manufacturing of affordable health products and capability to conduct clinical trials while emphasising on the importance of child survival through progressive reduction in the maternal mortality, infant mortality, neo-natal mortality and under-five mortality, to achieve Millennium Development Goals. BRICS is a platform of nations with developing economies representing 43 per cent of the world’s population.

Judiciary’s Assault on Democracy The judgment delivered on September

13, 2012 by Justice Swatanter Kumar, on behalf of himself and Justice A.K. Patnaik, belongs to an impressive lineage of Supreme Court rulings which create havoc and confusion in institutions — and even in the conduct of examinations — of which its judges were blissfully unaware. That this one called for a complete overhaul of the system of the Central Information Commission (CIC) and the many States’ Information Commissions is the least of its blemishes. What is of graver import and long-term consequence is that it is a wanton and reckless assault on parliamentary democracy.

Intemperate Comments

Proceedings for its review had to be halted because its author Justice Swatanter Kumar retired last month and was immediately appointed Chairman of the National Green Tribunal; but not before delivering intemperate comments during the review proceedings. Like almost all Supreme Court judgments, this one is rich in florid prose, disdainful of brevity and is animated by a desire to legislate.

A good copy editor would have reduced its 107 pages to one-third. The issue before the court was simple. Section 12 (5) and (6) of the Right to Information Act, 2005 prescribe, respectively, qualifications and disqualifications of the CIC and Information Commissioners. S. 15 (5) and (6) replicate them for their counterparts in the States. Briefly, the petition contended that the criteria for eligibility did not specify the qualifications or consultation with the judiciary. They perform judicial or quasi-judicial functions and should, therefore, have judicial experience. The Act must also prescribe a mechanism for consultation with the judiciary for such appointments.

S. 12 (6) of the Act which states the disqualifications is simplicity itself. “The Chief Information Commissioner or an Information Commissioner shall not be a Member of Parliament or Member of the Legislature of any State or Union Territory, as the case may be, or hold any other office of profit or connected with any political party or carrying on any business or pursuing any profession.” How anyone can possibly object to these bars passes comprehension.

The Shale Revolution’s Shifting Geopolitics

The shale energy revolution is likely to shift the tectonic plates of global power in ways that are largely beneficial to the West and reinforce U.S. power and influence during the first half of this century. Yet most public discussion of shale’s potential either focuses on the alleged environmental dangers of fracking or on how shale will affect the market price of natural gas. Both discussions blind policymakers to the true scale of the shale revolution. The real impact stems from its effect on the oil market. Shale gas offers the means to vastly increase the supply of fossil fuels for transportation, which will cut into the rising demand for oil — fuelled in part by China’s economic growth — that has dominated energy policymaking over the last decade.

There are two major factors in play here. First, the same shale extraction technology of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing can be employed whether the rocks are oil-bearing or gas-bearing. We have already seen over half a million barrels of oil a day flowing from the Bakken field in North Dakota.

The recent Harvard-based Belfer Center report — “Oil: The Next Revolution” — suggests that shale oil could be providing America with as much as six million barrels a day by 2020. The United States imported only 11 million barrels of crude oil a day in 2011. Given the potential for offshore and conventional domestic oil production, this would suggest that by 2020, America could be near energy independence in oil. However, many supporters of energy independence miss a key point:

The major geopolitical impact of shale extraction technology lies less in the fact that America will be more energy self-sufficient than in the consequent displacement of world oil markets by a sharp reduction in U.S. imports. This is likely to be reinforced by the development of shale oil resources in China, Argentina, Ukraine and other places, which will put additional pressure on global oil prices.

The second factor is the potential to use natural gas for transportation. Some analysts suggest that this will only be a realistic prospect for fleet and long-haul road transportation. But they are overlooking the immense advantage that natural gas has as a transportation fuel in America and Europe, which have both developed a natural gas infrastructure in urban areas that takes piped natural gas into homes, offices and supermarkets. Once gas is cheap and widely available, it is possible to consider dealing with the “last mile” problem of providing home refuelling kits so consumers can fill up natural-gas powered cars in their own garages.

The incentives to develop shale oil and natural gas are very great. But so far, the United States has only experienced the first stage of low natural-gas prices and the reimportation of energy intensive industries such as chemicals and steel because of low gas prices.

The next stage of the shale revolution’s impact is going to be felt as major stimulus gets under way from lower oil prices. More broadly, the shale revolution will grant the United States a greater range of options in dealing with foreign states. For the Europeans, the shale revolution is also largely positive.

A greater variety of gas supplies from liquefied natural gas originally destined for the United States has been dumped in European markets; by 2020, shale gas in the form of liquefied natural gas is likely to begin arriving in Europe in significant quantities, and there is also the prospect of some domestic shale gas becoming available. Europe will also benefit from the second stage of the shale revolution as oil prices come under pressure. However, American self-sufficiency in oil is of greatest concern to the European Union. The danger is that the United States will no longer have any direct interest in ensuring supply flows out of the Gulf. At the very least this will mean that Washington is likely to demand greater European investment in its own energy security. One option for the European Union is to develop natural gas transportation as an energy security hedge. This would also increase pricing pressure on oil producers.

About China

China has even greater incentives to develop its shale gas resources. According to the U.S. Energy Department’s Energy Information Administration, the country’s recoverable resources are larger than those of the United States at 36 trillion cubic meters. The main geostrategic reason for Beijing to develop shale gas for transportation is that the U.S. Navy controls the Pacific and most Chinese oil arrives by tanker. Large-scale use of natural gas for transportation would protect China from much of the effect of a U.S. blockade.

By contrast, the outlook for Russia and Saudi Arabia seems bleak. As the decade progresses, shale will be developed worldwide and natural gas infrastructures will be constructed. It is difficult to see how the markets will avoid dropping oil prices. Geopolitically, the shale revolution strengthens the United States, reduces China’s energy dependence, generates a major global stimulus, which takes the Western economies off the fiscal rocks, while potentially destabilising both the Russian Federation and Saudi Arabia. The incentives for the West and China to develop shale-based fossil fuel resources are so great that they will continue to press ahead with them

Bioinitative Report

The recently released BioInitiative Report 2012 (BIR-2012) on standards for electromagnetic radiation is a perfect clone of a similar report published in 2007. According to many responsible agencies it is biased and unscientific. BIR-2012 claimed that the evidence for risks to health from wireless technologies and electromagnetic fields (EMFs) has substantially increased since 2007. The studies alleged a link between cell phone radiation and brain tumours. Agencies such as the World Health Organization, UK Health Protection Agency and the International Commission on Non Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) do not support the conclusions.

A Self Appointed Group

The BioInitiative Working Group which prepared the report originated as a self appointed group from a mini symposium during the annual meeting of the Bioelectromagnetic Society in 2006 and has no official status. BIR 2012 gave a shot in the arm of anti cell phone tower radiation enthusiasts and sellers of protective screens, and ‘talisman’ against electromagnetic radiation!

Financial Stability Report

The latest Financial Stability Report (FSR) of the Reserve Bank of India, the sixth in the series, is a half yearly assessment by an expert committee of the outlook for the stability and resilience of the financial sector. The report also suggests policy actions that are needed to contain the risks to stability. Compared to the previous report, the threats to financial sector stability have increased. While the environment of global and domestic macroeconomic instability remains unchanged, there is a realisation that the highly unconventional tools relied upon by governments and central banks across the world at the beginning of the crisis are losing some of their edge and effectiveness.

Despite all of this, financial markets in India have remained largely stable. But the corporate sector’s ability to service its debt has been falling since 2009-10. Some infrastructure companies have substantially increased their leverage. These and a few other factors are responsible for the increased stress on the asset quality of the banking system.

A large number of loans have been restructured recently. The banking sector on the whole has remained resilient to credit, market and liquidity risks and is capable of withstanding macroeconomic shocks given their comfortable capital adequacy. However, new provisioning norms require banks to tie up a larger amount of capital to take care of distressed assets. In the context of the imminent shift to Basel III norms, some banks may face challenges in mopping up additional capital.

How Good Economics can Fuel Populist Politics

The total subsidy on petroleum products in 2011-12 was close to Rs.70,000 crore. With petrol prices already marked to market, cooking gas subsidy pruned by capping the number of subsidised cylinders per connection and now gradual elimination of diesel subsidy, the government has probably freed up at least Rs.50,000 crore in the coming fiscal for spending on its social programmes which are politically more rewarding. Imagine the ballast that this will provide for the government to dish out the lollies in the approach to elections in 2014!

If the economy picks up, as is the general expectation, then the government will have greater elbow room to spend on the social sector programmes that proved so rewarding for the UPA in the last general elections in 2009. So, there is obviously a larger game-plan that is being played out; diesel deregulation is only one part of that. Of course, there is going to be the inevitable political opposition to the move in the short-term but that can be managed. We should also not forget that the government has attempted to mollify consumers by increasing the number of subsidised cooking gas cylinders per connection to 9 a year from 6 and by reducing petrol prices by a marginal 25 paise a litre.

Prudent Economic Decision

Even so, the fact is that the decision couldn’t have come at a better time for the economy. The Reserve Bank of India has been impatient with the government for not carrying out necessary fiscal corrections and the ratings agencies have put India on watch for a possible downgrade. The twin deficits have kept the markets nervous and the rupee under pressure. Small wonder then that on Friday the rupee shot up by 69 paise to close at a two-month high versus the dollar.

The RBI will announce its quarterly monetary policy later this month but it will be interesting to note how it views the diesel price adjustment. Will it be seen as a step towards fiscal consolidation (and hence add to the argument for cutting rates) or will it be seen as an inflationary move (and hence work against a rate cut)? Though it might not help prune the fiscal deficit this year materially, the decision to free diesel prices will be seen by rating agencies as a signal of the government’s determination to rein in the fisc. And hopefully, put off any chances of a downgrade too.

Competition in Oil Industry

In the oil industry, the move is likely to unleash competitive forces. This is of course assuming that the government does not chicken out from its policy of gradually increasing retail pump prices till the subsidy is wholly eliminated. There have been at least two occasions in the past when deregulation of petroleum products were announced but not carried through. For a start, we could begin to see competition in the bulk consumers segment where the oil companies now have the freedom to charge market prices. Reliance Industries and Essar, the two large private players, can charge a price lower than that of the oil companies and cut into the bulk supplies business. These two companies own large, state-of-the-art refineries that can process crude oil of inferior grades which are cheaper than that used by the national oil companies.

There is also Shell which has the licence to retail petroleum products and has been keeping a symbolic presence the last few years. The real competition, of course, will begin when retail prices are fully linked to the market. That is when the national oil companies will feel the full impact and consumers begin to reap the benefit.

Fuel-pricing flaw

Finally, the decision will also correct a serious flaw in fuel pricing because of which the upper-classes that drive high-end saloons and SUVs powered by diesel engines enjoyed subsidy while the middle-classes driving petrol cars and two-wheelers ended up paying free-market prices. The elimination of artificial price difference between petrol and diesel will probably be the biggest gain from the government’s decision. And it will, hopefully, restore the balance between petrol and diesel passenger cars which was tilted towards the latter.

ISRO Lines up SARAL for February, Restored GSLV for April

  • The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) has slated its first launch of the year — ocean study spacecraft SARAL — for February 14.

  • It will herald the 8 to 10 missions, including satellites and launch vehicles, which ISRO has planned this year,

  • Flights of the GSLV rocket would be resumed and the first of the navigational spacecraft would be sent up, an ISRO official told The Hindu .

  • Along with the 450-kg Indo-French SARAL, the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) will put into orbit six small experimental satellites built by western universities for a fee.

  • SARAL would be one of the very few such ocean-centric satellites and a vital cog in studying sea surface heights and other aspects, the official said.

  • It would be similar to ISRO’s Oceansat-2, but with an altimeter (named ‘Argos’ here) to measure heights.

  • In October 2012, NASA relied on Oceansat-2 to get finer details of Hurricane ‘Sandy’ that wreaked havoc on the eastern U.S.

  • SARAL is short for S atellite with ARgos and ALtiKa, the two main devices on it which have been provided by French space agency CNES. Besides building the spacecraft, ISRO will launch and operate it through its life.

  • SARAL will come up two months later than the earlier planned fancy date of 12-12-12.

  • The December launch was put off to complete a few tests and validations, the official said.

  • Around April this year, ISRO expects to resume flying the GSLV rocket. The GSLV-D5 will lift the communications satellite GSAT-14 into orbit.

  • ISRO had put the GSLV programme on hold after it suffered two successive failures in April and December 2010. The lapses were analysed and corrections made, the official said.

Pushing Africa Aside in Mali

In the last few months, the U.N. Security Council had placed Mali at the centre of its agenda, while co-opting the concerns and counsel of West African states along the way. Last year, the council adopted Resolutions 2056, 2071 and 2085 — each facilitating progressively tough measures — to tackle this conflict. The U.N.’s efforts, which France has now upended, were aimed at bringing African stakeholders on board. In July 2012, the UNSC emphasised dialogue between various stakeholders in Mali, while acknowledging the sovereign authority of Mali’s interim government.

The Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) mediated this dialogue, often interacting with fringe elements such as Ansar Dine, the Islamist group that has now coalesced with other Tuareg outfits in northern Mali. Negotiating and sustaining an agreement is feasible only if there is a mechanism to enforce its terms. The Ecowas and the African Union (AU) had therefore requested the Security Council’s blessings for an African-led stabilisation force in Mali.

In late 2012, the AU and Ecowas made repeated appeals to the council to help deploy the African-led International Support Mission to Mali (AFISMA). In pursuit of their endeavour, African states drew up a Strategic Concept for the Resolution of the Crises in Mali as well a Concept of Operations that dealt with logistics, intelligence gathering, and even issues of internal displacement and humanitarian aid. The Security Council considered this blueprint, along with the U.N. Secretary General’s ground report which highlighted the importance of a political settlement in Mali. As an important and responsible supra-regional actor, France could have helped bridge differences among Ecowas members and provide financial assistance as well as training to AFISMA at this stage, as the UNSC urged members to do. Then, Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian advertised a hands-off approach, specifically suggesting France would not be directly involved in the intervention. Now, he is contemplating a troop deployment that could reach 2,500 in number.

eBiz Portal Launched

As part of the UPA Government’s National eGovernance Plan, the Commerce and Industry Ministry, on Monday, announced the launch of an eBiz portal aimed at providing Government-to-Business (G2B) services for India’s investor and business communities. The portal was launched by Commerce and Industry Minister Anand Sharma at the CII Partnership Summit here. The portal was developed by Infosys in a public-private partnership (PPP) mode. Infosys has been selected as the concessionaire/ project implementation partner, and is responsible for the design, development, implementation and maintenance of the eBiz solution.
The online single-window concept was visualised to enable businesses and investors to save time and costs and improve the business environment. The project aims to create a business and investor-friendly ecosystem in India by making all business and investment-related regulatory services across Central, State and local governments available on a single portal, thereby obviating the need for an investor or a business to visit multiple offices or a plethora of websites,” he said. eBiz will create a 24x7 facility for information and services, and will also offer joined-up services where a single application submitted by a customer, for a number of permissions, clearances, approvals and registrations, will be routed automatically across multiple governmental agencies in a logical manner. An in-built payment gateway will also add value by allowing all payments to be collected at one point and then apportioned, split and routed to the respective heads of account of Central / State / parastatal (a quasi-governmental organisation, corporation, business, or agency) agencies along with generation of challans and MIS (management information systems) reports.

India, Bangladesh sign Extradition Treaty

India and Bangladesh on Monday signed two landmark agreements to extradite criminals and terrorists and liberalise the visa regime.

However, refusal provisions have been built into the extradition treaty, which India waited for long. If extradition of someone poses a threat to national security, either country may refuse the deportation request. No political detainee will be brought within the purview of the treaty. If a controversy arose during an extradition process, officials explained, the matter would be settled as per the laws of the country concerned. The other agreement provides for a friendlier visa regime for Bangladeshis. Businessmen will be given a five-year, multiple-entry visa. Those travelling on medical grounds will get a two-year, multiple-entry visa, extendable for one more year. Three attendants of a patient will also be entitled to visa. Until now, India has been granting Bangladeshi tourists visas for up to six months and has allowed one person to accompany a patient. Earlier in the day, the Bangladesh Cabinet approved the extradition treaty at its regular meeting presided over by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. The Indian Cabinet approved it on January 24.

The signing ceremony was attended by the International Affairs Adviser to the Prime Minister, Gowher Rizvi, State Minister for Home Shamsul Haque Tuku, Bangladesh High Commissioner to India Tariq A. Karim and Indian High Commissioner Pankaj Saran.

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