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