Gist of The Hindu: June 2014

Gist of The Hindu: June 2014

WAITING FOR BIFURCATION

President's Rule in Andhra Pradesh was the only option left before the Union Cabinet after the resignation of Chief Minister Kiran Kumar Reddy, who also quit the Congress protesting against the bifurcation of the State. With most of the members of the Legislative Assembly divided on geographical lines, and party loyalty counting for nothing, no government would have been able to get adequate numbers for a vote of confidence. Moreover, with the election to the Assembly due to be held along with the Lok Sabha polls soon, none of the senior State leaders of the Congress could have been very enthusiastic about the prospect of serving the remainder of the term as an ineffectual Chief Minister. With the model code of conduct bound to become operative with the announcement of the election schedule, a new government would have been left without much leeway for even routine administrative decision-making. Thus, other than bringing together unwilling, disparate elements in a weak, ineffectual government in Andhra Pradesh, the Congress leadership had no option. President's Rule suggested itself to the Centre, and the Assembly could only be kept in suspended animation.

President's Rule in Andhra Pradesh opens up another possibility for the Centre and the Congress: holding Assembly elections at a later date, and not simultaneously with the Lok Sabha polls. Unlike in the case of the previous round of state-formation exercises involving Jharkhand, Uttarakhand and Chhattisgarh, the bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh has been left to coincide with the parliamentary and State Assembly elections. Depending on the timing of the presidential assent and the notification of the appointed date for the formation of Telangana, elections will have to be held either to the composite Andhra Pradesh Assembly or to the two assemblies of Seemandhra and Telangana. Elections to two separate assemblies may well take some time to organise, but it does make political sense. The process of first forming a government for Andhra Pradesh in its current form out of the composite Assembly, and later for Telangana and Seemandhra after bifurcating the Assembly, can thus be avoided. However, while President's Rule can be justified on the ground that there was in Andhra Pradesh a "situation of impasse" as specified in the Bommai judgment, the postponement of the Assembly election will have no such justification. An alternative government might not have been possible from the current Assembly, but this in itself is no argument for postponing the Assembly election. Whether or not Telangana comes into being before the Lok Sabha polls, the Centre and the Election Commission need to take the most democratic course - which is to put a popular government in place without delay.

FISCAL DEFICIT EXCEEDS REVISED BUDGET ESTIMATES

The fiscal deficit in the 10 months through January, 2014, has overshot revised estimates of Rs.5.24 lakh crore for this fiscal provided by Finance Minister P. Chidambaram in his interim Budget.

According to the data released by the Controller General of Accounts (CGA), the fiscal deficit during April-January 2013-14 worked out to be Rs.5.32 lakh crore or 101.6 per cent of the revised estimates.

The government had in the Budget for 2013-14 proposed to bring down the fiscal deficit to 4.8 per cent of GDP or Rs.5.42 lakh crore. This figure, however, was revised downwards in the interim Budget to Rs.5.24 lakh crore or 4.6 per cent of the GDP.

With actual figures for February and March yet to come, it would be difficult for the government to restrict the fiscal deficit, which is a reflection of government's market borrowings to revised level.

As per the CGA data, the revenue deficit during the 10-month period through January was Rs.3.79 lakh crore or 102.3 per cent of the revised estimate.

Government's total expenditure, however, was only 79.8 per cent of the revised estimates of Rs.15.90 lakh crore. The data further revealed that revenue receipts during April-January period were Rs.7.22 lakh crore or 70.1 per cent of the revised estimates.

NEW WILDLIFE BOARD TO BE NOTIFIED SOON

The National Board of Wildlife is ready to be notified after the government revised the names of non-government officials and organisations on board the apex body which is chaired by the Prime Minister.

The board (NBWL), a statutory body under the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, is supposed to oversee implementation of the law and the wildlife policy. A sub-set of the board, the standing committee, chaired by the environment minister and comprising of several non-government members and officers, is required under Supreme Court orders to appraise all projects falling within protected wildlife areas or within 10 kilometres distance of any such zones.

The non-government members are nominated on to the board and it has always been considered a coveted position by some conservationists and naturalists.

The tenure of the last board had lapsed in September 2013 and it had been pending renomination while an array of projects got queued up for clearance for the board's standing committee, including some coal projects.

The PMO has been pushing hard since 2012 that the standing committee meet at least once a month to appraise projects regularly.

Even as the board's creation remained stuck, the ministry moved to reduce the size of the legally protected area around wildlife zones to avoid seeking clearance for the board's standing committee for hydroelectric projects in Sikkim.

Several projects in wildlife areas had been objected to by the last wildlife board which also asked for serious reforms in the way the board and the standing committee functioned. With the standing committee's views being recommendatory and not the final word the non-government members several times were over-ruled or their agenda not followed upon by the ministry.

After Mr Veerrapa Moily took over, the setting up of the new board ran in to rough weather when the first list was recommended by the ministry and approved by the PMO, sources in the government told The Hindu. A demand arose for revising it.

Out of those nominated in the first PMO-approved list, Kalpvriksh, Ravi Chellam, P R Sinha, Sanjay Gubbi, Erach Barucha and Vivek Menon, Centre for Ecological Studies and Asad Rehmani have now been dropped. The names of Valmik Thapar, B K Talukdar, Koustubh Sharma, Biswajit Mohanty,Shekar Dattatri and Bittu Sehgal have found place on the new list along with that of Green Life Society, Raman Sukumar and Bombay Natural History Society.

M K Ranjitsinh, K Ullas Karanth, WWF, Brijendra Singh and the Nature Conservation Foundation continue to be on the revised approved list as well. The Parliament Members on board the revised approved list includes Jyoti Mirdha, Dushyant Singh and M S Gill.

Sources in the government said the PMO had approved the revised list too and sent it to the environment ministry for notification. When asked for the reasons behind revision of the approved list of members on board the NBWL, the minister's office informed The Hindu, that it "Was not competent to comment on the matter and that the minister was not in Delhi till March 4."

SC ISSUES NOTICE TO RAILWAY ON SAFETY

The Supreme Court has served notice on the Railways on a public interest petition seeking direction that sleeper coaches being manufactured conform with international safety standards.

A Bench of Chief Justice P. Sathasivam and Justice Ranjan Gogoi issued the notice, returnable in four weeks, on the writ petition filed by advocate Abhay Singh.

Pointing out that materials at present used in cushions, cushion covers, curtains, flooring and wood partitioning are substandard and do not comply with safety standards, the petitioner sought a ban on the use of these materials.

In his petition, Mr. Singh said in recent times there had been a number of accidents "where a large number of passengers have been charred to death." These deaths, he added, were caused by asphyxiation resulting from inhalation of toxic gases. "This toxicity is caused from poisonous gases released by the inferior and substandard quality of the materials used by the Indian Railways in the interior furnishings, which are all around the passengers.

The materials used in the railway coaches emit toxic gases much beyond the permissible limit. The Officials of the Indian Railways are apparently aware of this basic flaw in the materials being purchased and used in the passenger coaches."

He quoted several test reports released by government laboratories that clearly indicate that the Toxicity Index of these materials exceed the specified permissible limits. "The matter needs to be investigated and resolved at the earliest as the hapless passengers are being subjected to risking their lives while travelling in trains run by the Railways, funded by the tax payers' money and is considered as a safe and affordable mode of travel."

ICMR ISSUES CODE FOR LIFE SCIENCES RESEARCH

The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) has issued a mandatory code of conduct for research scientists engaged in the field of life sciences. This has been done with a view to preventing the use of scientific research for bio-terrorism and bio-warfare.

The aim is to ensure that all research activities, involving microbial or other biological agents, or toxins, whatever their origin or method of production, are only of types and in quantities that have justification for prophylactic, protective or other peaceful purposes.

Ethical considerations in this Code of Conduct would be binding on all laboratory scientists involved in scientific research concerning dangerous organisms and toxic weapons against any living being or environment.
Bioethics has emerged as a new discipline over the past couple of decades and is poised to become a multidisciplinary specialty. Institutional review boards and ethics committees have evolved as conscience keepers of professionals with the view to safeguarding the welfare of members of society against any possible harm from scientific advances.

Advances in laboratory technologies have created new and complex ethical dilemmas. Laboratory services are an integral part of disease diagnosis, treatment, response monitoring, surveillance programmes and research.
Therefore, personnel working in clinical and/or research laboratories should be aware of their ethical responsibilities. It is necessary to comply with the ethical code of conduct prescribed by national and international organisations, and address the emerging ethical, legal and social concerns in the field of biological and biomedical sciences.

Pointing out that modern biology and biotechnology offer novel ways of manipulating basic life processes, the Code of Conduct says that purposefully or unintentionally, genetic modification of micro-organisms could be used to create organisms that are more virulent and antibiotic-resistant or have greater stability in the environment.

The scientists engaged in such research activities should be aware of the potential risks and concerns relating to science and its wider applications and the ethical responsibilities they shoulder. They should not only be aware of but also comply with the requirements of international conventions and treaties relevant to their research work, the code says.

KEY EVENTS IN UKRAINE'S POLITICAL CRISIS

Nov. 21, 2013 - President Viktor Yanukovych's government announces it is abandoning an agreement to strengthen ties with the European Union and is instead seeking closer cooperation with Moscow. Protesters take to the streets.

Nov. 30 - Images of protesters bloodied by police truncheons spread quickly and galvanise public support for the demonstrations.

Dec. 1 - A protest attracts around 300,000 people on Kiev's Independence Square, known as the Maidan, the largest since the 2004 Orange Revolution. Activists seize Kiev City Hall.

Dec. 17 - Russian President Vladimir Putin announces Moscow will buy $15 billion worth of Ukrainian government bonds and cut the price Ukrainians pay for Russian natural gas.

Jan. 22, 2014 - Two protesters die during a confrontation between police and demonstrators manning barricades.

Jan. 28 - In concessions to the opposition, the Prime Minister resigns and parliament repeals harsh anti- protest laws that set off the violence.

Feb. 16 - Opposition activists end their occupation of Kiev City Hall in exchange for the release of all 234 jailed protesters.

Feb. 18 - Protesters attack police lines and set fires outside parliament after it stalls on a constitutional reform to limit presidential powers. Riot police respond to the violence by trying to push protesters off Independence Square. Eight die and hundreds are injured.

Feb. 20 - Hours after a truce is announced, violence resumes, with government snipers shooting protesters from the roofs. 64 deaths occur on this day.

Feb. 21 - Under a European-mediated plan, protest leaders and Mr. Yanukovych agree to form a new government and hold an early election. Parliament slashes his powers and votes to free his rival, Yulia Tymoshenko, from prison. Mr. Yanukovych flees Kiev after protesters take control.

Feb. 22 - Parliament votes to remove Mr. Yanukovych and hold new elections. Ms. Tymoshenko is freed and addresses tens of thousands on the Maidan.

Feb. 23 - Ukraine's parliament assigns presidential powers to its new speaker, Oleksandr Turchinov, an ally of Ms. Tymoshenko. The new authorities ask the West for loans to avoid an imminent default. Pro-Russia protesters start rallying against the new authorities in Crimea, where Russia has a major naval base.

Feb. 24 - Ukraine's interim government draws up a warrant for Mr. Yanukovych's arrest. Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev derides the new leaders in Kiev as "Kalashnikov-toting people in black masks."

Feb. 26 - Leaders of Ukraine's protest movement propose legislator Arseniy Yatsenyuk as prime minister. In Moscow, Mr. Putin orders major military exercises just across the border.

Feb. 27 - Masked gunmen seize regional parliament and government buildings in Crimea. Ukraine's government, with strong backing from the West, pledges to prevent a national breakup. Mr. Yanukovych is granted refuge in Russia.

Feb. 28 - Ukraine says Russian troops have taken up positions around strategic locations on the Crimean peninsula. Ukraine's parliament adopts a resolution demanding that Russia halt steps it says are aimed against Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity. Mr. Turchynov says he has put armed forces on full readiness because of the threat of "potential aggression."

March 1 - Russian troops take over Crimea without firing a shot. The Kiev government and its Western supporters are powerless to react. U.S. President Barack Obama calls Mr. Putin to demand the troops' withdrawal.

March 2 - Ukraine appeals for international help, fearing a wider Russian invasion. Supporters on both sides take to the streets of Ukrainian cities and of Moscow. The U.S. says it believes Russia has more than 6,000 troops in Crimea. The Group of Seven suspends preparations for June's G8 summit in Russia.

March 3 - Pro-Russian troops control a ferry terminal on the easternmost tip of Crimea, adding to fears that Moscow is planning to bring in even more troops.

THE MISCHIEF IN THE RULES

The refusal by two eminent jurists to join the Lokpal Search Committee is symptomatic of the credibility crisis that the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) regime faces in its last days. Even the process of putting in place an independent anti-corruption ombudsman has been engulfed in controversy, exposing the government to the charge that it is in an unseemly hurry to appoint the body before the expiry of its term. At the very first meeting of the Selection Committee, Sushma Swaraj, Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha, objected to the inclusion of senior advocate P.P. Rao in the selection panel as the fifth member, and her objection was overruled. Senior advocate Fali Nariman declined to be on the Search Committee, voicing the fear that in the two-stage selection process, "the most competent, the most independent and the most courageous will get overlooked." Retired Supreme Court judge, Justice K.T. Thomas, went through the Rules framed under the Lokpal and Lokayukta Act, and noted that the Search Committee's recommendations were not binding on the Selection Committee, headed by the Prime Minister. Such controversies need not imply that the statutory framework for the Lokpal is substantively flawed; but when the finer points in the process that emerge after rules are framed appear loaded in favour of the ruling dispensation, the process itself becomes suspect.

When the much-delayed Bill was passed in Parliament in December 2013, there was a sense of relief that a reasonably sound law was in place. However, the government equipped itself with some potential filters while framing the rules. The process involves a Selection Committee that will appoint a Search Committee. Going by the rules, the search panel will scrutinise only applications forwarded to it by the Department of Personnel and Training. The rule circumscribes the Search Committee's role to choosing names out of a list submitted by the government and blocks any independent nomination from the community at large. Further, the panel of names recommended by it need not be accepted by the Selection Committee, which is free to consider names from outside the panel too. Empowering the apex committee with the freedom to go beyond the recommendations may not be inherently wrong. However, the potential for mischief in confining the first stage to a government list and conferring wide discretion on the selection panel in the second stage may ultimately result in some deserving candidates being ignored or, worse, someone deemed inconvenient being deliberately disregarded. The government needs to shore up the credibility of the process; as an immediate step, it should revisit the rules and give a free hand to the Search Committee to do its job.

INS SUMEDHA TO BE COMMISSIONED

INS 'Sumedha', an Offshore Patrol Vessel (OPV) indigenously designed and built by Goa Shipyard Ltd. (GSL), Goa-based defence shipyard for the Indian Navy, will be formally commissioned by Vice Admiral Anil Chopra, Flag Officer, Commander-In-Chief, East at GSL in South Goa.

The ship on commissioning will join Eastern Naval Command at Vizag, the sword arm of Indian Navy.

This warship is the culmination of many years of in-house design development and ship build techniques. The commissioning of this ship marks a significant milestone in GSL's and country's march towards indigenization and self reliance, said an official spokesperson of GSL here on Monday.

Sumedha is 200th ship indigenously built by GSL. GSL is the only yard which has delivered four classes of OPVs to both Navy and Coast Guard. INS 'Sumedha' is the third of the new 105 meter class of NOPV and the largest ship constructed by GSL for the Indian Navy. This state-of-the- art ship will help meet the increasing requirement of the Indian Navy for undertaking ocean surveillance and surface warfare operations in order to prevent infiltration and transgression of maritime sovereignty, said the spokesperson.

INDIA-PAKISTAN-IRAN PIPELINE REMAINS THE MOST VIABLE OPTION

Despite the Foreign Office emphasising that India was looking for an undersea route to source gas from Iran, bypassing Pakistan in the process, reliable sources here maintained that the India-Pakistan-Iran (IPI) "Peace Pipeline" still remained on the drawing board and was the most viable option.

Following talks between Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid last week, official sources suggested that one important subject, which was also discussed with the Oman Foreign Minister the same day, was the revival of an undersea pipeline project. Official sources suggested that this pipeline, which would bypass Pakistan, was now technically feasible after the success of the North Sea undersea pipeline.

If Iran was looking at the cheapest way to get gas to customers, it would prefer European customers. But what Iran had in mind was providing spillover benefits of the surface pipeline to the region it passes through, especially the Makran Plateau common to both Pakistan and Iran and where poverty has fuelled subversive tendencies.

And, the sources suggested that the future of the IPI pipeline was entwined with the Chah-bahar port as Iran was keen to ensure that this town and the surrounding region of Sistan-Baluchistan Province also gained from the availability of gas. The benefits will cross the border as development of industry due to availability of energy would give more employment opportunities to Pakistani youth. Interestingly, this is India's approach too. Its officials began two days of talks with their Pakistani counterparts here on Wednesday on exporting electricity.

Just 72 km from the Pakistani port of Gwadar being built with Chinese help, the first phase of developing the Chah-bahar port is nearly over. The Union Cabinet has already earmarked $100 millions for the development of the port in anticipation of Iran agreeing to involve India in developing the port as well as utilising a north-bound route that enters into Afghanistan and Central Asia.

India and Iran have held several rounds of talks on sharing operations and developing the port. After the latest conversation between the Iranian and Indian Foreign Ministers, official sources said Tehran will get back before Nauroz holidays (Persian New Year) with answers to queries raised. But the next government will have to work on several other fronts before Iran agrees to give India access to a port that faces the open sea unlike the bigger Iranian port of Bandar Abbas which is in the Persian Gulf.

Iranian Foreign Minister as well as other interlocutors have indicated that Iran is in no hurry to get the money back, held up due to sanctions by the US and the European Union. It would want this money, even if it accumulates further, to be utilised as export credit for some big ticket joint venture projects, possibly even a refinery at Chah-bahar which is just 900 km away from Gujrat's Mundhra Port.

SMOOTHENING OUT CROSS-LOC TRADE

In January, trade across the Line of Control (LoC) came to a standstill after a truck driver from the Pakistan side of Kashmir was arrested on a charge of carrying 110 packets of brown sugar. About 48 trucks were stranded on the Indian side while 27 Indian trucks were held back, as Pakistan demanded that the driver be handed over so that the case could be investigated. It was argued that the driver could not be arrested given the terms of the trade and the fact that he enjoyed diplomatic immunity. Trade resumed over a month later. An extraordinary session of the Joint Working Group on Cross-LoC Confidence Building Measures (CBMs) on March 4 discussed the streamlining of standard operating procedures and introduction of scanners, and a suggestion that all stakeholders should be present at the loading and unloading points. The introduction of banking facilities would also help the trade, which is now conducted on barter basis. The bus service between the two sides of Kashmir had resumed on humanitarian grounds to avoid inconvenience to the people, even as the standoff continued.

Cross-LoC trade, which began in 2008 through Salamabad in Uri and Chakan-da-Bagh in Poonch district with two trade facilitation centres, is an important CBM, and both India and Pakistan need to learn the lessons from this episode. After an initial standoff, both sides did show a willingness to resume trade, but it is important to work out fool-proof systems to avoid any more rounds of a blame game. In the past, trade across the LoC has witnessed interference from armies from both sides, and tensions between the two countries also had their impact. For the CBM to work, there is a need to ensure the smooth flow of goods and also create an atmosphere conducive to the building of trust. If trucks and people from either side are treated with suspicion, it defeats the very purpose of a confidence building measure. Scanning the goods and initiating a joint mechanism to check them at crossing points, as has been proposed during the meeting of the JWG, would help. It should not take over a month of protracted discussions to restore normalcy. A prompt system of redress needs to be put in place so that livelihoods and cross-LoC travel are not held up while the two countries dispute threadbare the details of standard operating procedures as in this case. Neither should it be the case that an offence, if established beyond reasonable doubt, goes unpunished. Any future steps will have to incorporate measures that would prevent such incidents and tackle them without any disruption of trade or bus services

UKRAINE CRISIS WORRIES INDIA

India called for elections and a dialogue between Ukraine and other countries involved in the crisis there but left unstated New Delhi's concern over Kiev's control of its military industrial complex, with which India has developed close ties.

Of immediate concern is the fate of some military equipment factories from where India is getting its entire fleet of medium military transport aircraft modernised. Another Ukrainian military facility provides engines for military helicopters of Russian origin, which account for a quarter of the world's medium, medium-heavy and heavy lift helicopters. India also has contracts for sourcing naval engines.

India had managed to strike deals with these companies as an alternative to Russia. It has in the past managed to play off the two countries and get the best possible deal.

The breakthrough came during ousted Ukrainian President Viktor Yankovich's visit to India in December 2012 with the signing of a defence cooperation agreement. It is a sign of Ukraine's importance to India's military modernisation that the Indian embassy in Kiev has two military officers of First Secretary rank and one of Second Secretary rank.

The visit led to the doubling of imports in the past two years with expectations of a further jump if the new political dispensation remained as favourable as Mr. Yankovich and control some of these military-industrial complexes.

JAPAN: BITCOIN NOT A CURRENCY BUT TAXABLE

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's Cabinet said that bitcoin, the world's most well-known form of virtual money, is not a currency, but would be taxable.

Tokyo defined bitcoin as a product that is not handled by banks and securities houses. It also added that consumption tax would be levied on purchases of the virtual currency and income tax would be imposed on profits from its sale.

The decision came a week after the collapse of the Tokyo-based Mt Gox, one of the largest exchanges for the virtual currency.

The collapse prompted Japanese lawmakers to argue bitcoin should be under greater public control.

ELUSIVE RECOVERY

Growth data released by the Central Statistics Office last week point to acontinuing economic slowdown and offer very little comfort to a government that is hoping to proclaim a recovery ahead of the elections. With no further data releases scheduled until May-end, the government will have to reckon with the fact that based on published figures it would be extremely difficult for the economy to clock a rate of even 5 per cent for the whole year. The economy grew by 4.7 per cent in the quarter ending December, which was slightly better than the average of 4.6 per cent clocked during the first half of the year (April-September 2013). For the seventh successive quarter, GDP growth has been below 5 per cent. Finance Minister P. Chidambaram in his recent budget speech expected economic growth during the second half of the year to be at least 5.2 per cent. That now seems a stupendous task given the slackness in the third quarter. The CSO's advance estimates for 2013-14 released earlier of 4.9 per cent growth certainly does not look to be an underestimate as some government officials have been claiming. It ought to be quite disconcerting that having witnessed annual growth rates above 9 per cent in a few years during its two terms the UPA will be facing elections with the economy stuck in a sub-5 per cent growth trajectory.

A closer look at the third quarter data reveal some well-entrenched weaknesses in specific sectors. The investment scenario remains weak notwithstanding recent efforts by the government to fast-track certain large projects. There is an expected measure of uncertainty in decision-making ahead of the elections. Both mining and manufacturing declined in the three-month period. They have been weak throughout this year. Policy logjam and environmental and judicial activism have impacted adversely on mining output and this has had major negative consequences for the current account of the balance of payments. The outlook for the near future is not bright. Eight core industries which have more than one-third weight in the Index of Industrial Production, an important lead indicator, grew by just 1.6 per cent in January compared with 2.1 per cent in December. Exports are growing but at a slower pace during the three months up to January. Agriculture has done reasonably well while services, driven mainly by one sub-sector, personal community and social services - which is a proxy for government spending - picked up in the October-December quarter. GDP growth along with retail inflation and inflation expectations will figure prominently in the general election. Barring an unexpected turnaround, the government would seem to be on a weak wicket.

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