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
For an India-led Security Architecture in South Asia
How Good Economics can Fuel Populist Politics
Prudent Economic Decision
Pushing Africa Aside in Mali
India, Bangladesh sign Extradition Treaty
NO DEAL ON PARCHIN; IRAN-P5+1 TALKS TO CONTINUE
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.
POLITICS OF TELANGANA
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
PHILANTHROPY IN INDIA
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
THE TARGET AREAS
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.
THE NEW APPROACH
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
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
Besides, the 14th Finance Commission would suggest measures
for maintaining a stable and sustainable fiscal environment consistent with
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
“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
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.
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
(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
(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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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
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
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
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 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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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)
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.