2018 september-november

2018 september-november

POLITY AND CONSTITUTION ___________

 

  1. Centre Panel Recommendations on Hate Speech —
  • Brought into the statute by the UPA-II in 2009, Section 66A had empowered the police to make arrests over what the policemen, in terms of their subjective discretion, could construe as “offensive” or “menacing”.
  • An expert committee, constituted by the Centre after the Supreme Court struck down the controversial Section 66A of the Information Technology Act in 2015, has recommended that the Indian Penal Code, Code of Criminal Procedure and the IT Act be amended to introduce stringent provisions, specifying punishment, to deal with cases of hate speech and use of cyberspace to spread hatred and incitement.
  • The committee, headed by former Law Secretary and Lok Sabha Secretary General T K Viswanathan, submitted its report to the Union Home Ministry last week. Committee member Dr S Sivakumar, who is also a member of the Law Commission, told The Indian Express: “We decided there was no need to re-introduce Section 66A, but we need to strengthen the Indian Penal Code instead.” The committee’s recommendations include:

Prohibiting incitement to hatred

  • Amend IPC section 153 C to include in communication “spoken or written words, signs, visible representation, information, audio, video, or combination of both, transmitted, retransmitted through any telecommunication service, communication device or computer resource”.
  • Punishment:Up to two years or fine of Rs 5,000 or both.
  • Causing fear, alarm or provocation of violence in certain cases
  • By amending IPC section 505 A, punishment of any person or group of persons who intentionally, on grounds of religion, race, caste or community, gender, sexual orientation, place of birth, residence, language, disability or tribe, uses any means of communication to communicate.
  1. Punishment:Up to a year, or Rs 5000 or both.
  2. Amendment to Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973
  3. Add sections 25 B and 25 C — creating the post of a State Cyber Crime Coordinator and District Cyber Crime Cell, respectively.
  4. Amendment to IT Act, 2000
  5. Amendment to Section 78 allows a police officer not below the rank of Sub-Inspector to investigate any offence under this Act (report specifies young police officers, directly recruited as SIs, better equipped and trained to investigate cyber offences)
  6. The expert committee was constituted after the Supreme Court struck down Section 66A of the IT Act. Brought into the statute by the UPA-II in 2009, Section 66A had empowered the police to make arrests over what the policemen, in terms of their subjective discretion, could construe as “offensive” or “menacing” or for the purposes of causing annoyance, inconvenience, etc. It prescribed the punishment for sending messages through computer or any other communication device like a mobile phone or a tablet, and a conviction could fetch a maximum of three years in jail.
  7. Over the years, police invoked this provision to arrest a variety of people, including a cartoonist, professor, students and industrialists, more particularly when they posted contents against politicians. Many of these instances were cited in a batch of petitions filed in the court for getting the provision quashed.
  8. On March 24, 2015, the bench of Justices Rohinton F Nariman and J Chelameswar struck down the “open-ended and unconstitutionally vague” Section 66A, saying nothing short of quashing this law “in its entirety” could suffice since it “arbitrarily, excessively and disproportionately” invaded the right of free speech, right to dissent, right to know, and had a “chilling effect” on the constitutional mandates.
  9. “As Section 66A severely curtails information that may be sent on the Internet based on whether it is grossly offensive, annoying, inconvenient, etc, and being unrelated to any of the subject matters under Article 19(2) must, therefore, fall foul of Article 19(1)(a), and is declared as unconstitutional and void,” the bench ruled.
  10. This landmark ruling came in the matter of Shreya Singhal vs Union of India. Two women of Maharashtra were arrested for expressing displeasure at a bandh called by the Shiv Senain Mumbai after Bal Thackeray’s death in November 2012. The matter was taken up by lawyer Shreya Singhal.
  11. The expert committee, in its report, has stated that “representatives of the Ministry of Women and Child Development stressed upon re-introducing a renovated section 66A within the IT Act, incorporating suitable changes”. But, it goes onto say, other members of the committee advocated the line that with the IT Act being “commercial in nature”, it was important for an Act invoking punishment to amend the Indian Penal Code.
  12. In recommending specific changes in Sections 153 (C) and 505 (A), the committee said only that speech should be accounted as relevant which relates to “religion, race, caste, community, sex, gender, place of birth, residence and language.” The committee argues that online speech would be criminalised “only both, when it advocates hatred and causes the incitement of an offence”.
  13. The recommendations cover online hate speech and “re-sending (or re-tweeting/sharing)” of communication and raise questions if it is Section 66A in another form.
  14. Another member of the committee, Navjeet Wasan, a retired IPS officer and former Director General of the Bureau of Police Research and Development, said: “After Section 66A was struck down by the Supreme Court, we were concerned that while liberty is non-negotiable, what about those denigrating others through social media? Persons in towns, girls and boys experiencing harassment through online speech and messages on social media did not know what to do and how to protect themselves. We hope to be able to provide a framework of the system that would help taking on this crime and help them.”
  15. Sources close to the committee said the expert group relied heavily on rules as amended this year in Europe, and especially the experience in the UK. The committee has also cited the need for guidelines as issued in the UK, and do not exist in India. But it has urged extreme caution while acting on speech to balance competing interests and not thwart freedom of speech generally.
  16. Other members of the committee included Dr Gulshan Rai, National Cyber Security coordinator, and members of the Ministry of Home Affairs and legal experts. “This is not the final word. We have cited legislation from the developed world, from Australia, UK, EU etc, and we hope this begins the discussion,” Wasan said.

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  1. Inner Party Democracy ___

Unlike some countries like Germany and Portugal, India has no legal provision for enforcing internal democracy in a political party apart from few related provisions in section 29A of RPA & in Election Commission guidelines/// OVER THE YEARS — Related developments  The 170th report of the Law Commission (1999)· of India on reform of electoral laws focused on “Necessity of providing laws relating to internal democracy within parties.  The ARC’s 2008 Ethics and Governance report· talked about corruption due to high centralization.  A committee headed by the former Chief Justice· of India, M. N. Venkatachaliah, had drafted a bill to regulate the functioning of political parties      Arguments in Favour of Intra-Party Democracy  It helps party members to hold leaders accountable and· engage in policy decision processes meaningfully as it would bring in competition, participation and representation inside the party.  It may lead to dismantling of nepotism· & dynasty politics (affiliations based on family background, caste, religion etc.).  It would give space for dissent within the party reducing the possibility of formation of number of off shoots· of political parties.  It may promote transparency in handling party funds, thereby reducing influence of money and muscle· power.  It may cultivate a sense of ownership for local politicians in larger issues facing the nation as policy· decisions will involve deliberations and debate within party.

 

 

3. Law Panel on Tribunals ______ Suggests CJI-led body oversee appointments

In a strong message to the government that appointments to tribunals and their functioning should remain independent of the executive’s influence, the Law Commission of India has recommended that a Committee led by the Chief Justice of India should be in charge of the appointments of Chairman, Vice-Chairman and Judicial Members of the various central tribunals, which form a pillar of the country’s justice delivery system.

“While making the appointments to the Tribunal, it must be ensured that independence in working is maintained,” the report of the Commission, led by former Supreme Court judge, Justice (retired) B.S. Chauhan, said in its report to the government.

Specialised role

The tribunals perform an important and specialised role in justice mechanism. They take a load off the already over-burdened courts. They hear disputes related to the environment, armed forces, tax and administrative issues

The Commission has suggested a common nodal agency, possibly under the Law Ministry, to both monitor the working of the tribunals and to ensure uniformity in the appointment, tenure and service conditions for the Chairman, Vice-Chairman and members. As of now, tribunals function under the very government department which may be a litigant before them, and probably, against which they may have to pass orders.

Every order emanating from the tribunal or its appellate forum, wherever it exists, attains finality, the Commission recommended.

HC power to review

In a marked departure from its earlier stand, the Commission recommended the restoration of the High Courts’ power of judicial review over the decisions of the tribunals.

“The power of judicial review conferred on the High Courts is same as that of the Supreme Court, which is a basic feature of the Constitution and tinkered with only by amending of the Constitution,” the report said.

It said parties should be allowed to challenge a tribunal order before the Division Bench of the high court having territorial jurisdiction over the tribunal or its appellate forum. Presently, parties are deprived of an opportunity to move high courts concerned against the orders of some tribunals and have to move the Supreme Court directly.

The Commission, in this regard, specifically points to the case of the Armed Forces Tribunal (AFT). It recommended that in disputes in which the AFT has jurisdiction, “parties must have a right to approach the high court under Article 226 for the reason that a remedy under Article 136 is not by way of statutory appeal”. It, however, points out that the exact issue is pending for consideration before the Supreme Court.

The Commission said tribunals must have benches in different parts of the country so that people of every geographical area may have easy access to justice.

“Ideally, the benches of the tribunals should be located at all places where the high courts situate. In the event of exclusion of jurisdiction of all courts, it is essential to provide for an equally effective alternative mechanism even at grass root level. This could be ensured by providing State- level sittings looking to the quantum of work of a particular tribunal. Once that is done, the access to justice will stand ensured,” the Commission said.

It further noted that reappointment of chairman and others compromises the independence and fairness of the tribunal.

“One may be inclined to decide matters in a manner that would ensure their reappointment,” the report said.

In its report titled ‘Assessment of Statutory Frameworks of Tribunals in India’, submitted to the Law Ministry on Friday, the panel said, “though the disposal rate of the tribunals in comparison to the filing of cases per year had been remarkable — 94% — the pendency remains high”.

 

SC Collegium Proceedings in Public Domain The Supreme Court collegium seems to have finally given in to the mounting pressure for ensuring transparency in the process of appointment and transfer of Judges. For the first time ever, the Collegium has decided to place its decisions in the publi…

Read more at: http://www.livelaw.in/landmark-step-transparency-supreme-court-collegium-proceedings-now-public-domain/

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  1. Public Finance Management System_____

The Public Financial Management System (PFMS) after implemented on full scale will help Union Government to save a significant amount on interest cost…
It will allow the government to monitor and access the more than Rs.1 lakh crore of idle funds lying with it under various heads. Once government acce…
……..

  1. Law Commission Proposes Anti Torture Legislation ________________________

_____ The Law Commission seeks to plug a legal loophole

“Torture is a wound in the soul so painful that sometimes you can almost touch it, but it is also such intangible that there is no way to heal it”. The Supreme Court reproduced the words of Adriana P. Bartow in itsD.K. Basu judgment to explain the negative effect of torture on human dignity.

The Law Commission of India in its 273rd report has proposed a new anti-torture law, the Prevention of Torture Bill, 2017, which provides a wide definition to torture not confined to physical pain but also includes “inflicting injury, either intentionally or involuntarily, or even an attempt to cause such an injury, which will include physical, mental or psychological”.

The Commission has suggested India’s ratification of the UN Convention Against Torture. The proposed standalone anti-torture law directly makes the state responsible for any injury inflicted by its agents on citizens. Under it, the state shall not claim immunity from the actions of its officers or agents.

The recommendation of the Commission headed by former Supreme Court judge, Justice B.S. Chauhan, will allow human rights advocates to pressurise the government to recognise torture as a separate crime. So far, neither the Indian Penal Code nor the Code of Criminal Procedure specifically or comprehensively addresses custodial torture.

Though India had signed the UN Convention against Torture in 1997, it is yet to ratify it. Efforts to bring a standalone law against torture had lapsed. The National Human Rights Commission has been urging the government to recognise torture as a separate crime and codify punishment in a separate penal law.

Recently, while hearing a PIL filed by former Union Law Minister Ashwani Kumar, the Supreme Court had described torture as an instrument of “human degradation” used by the state. It was after the scathing remarks that the government had referred the question of a law on torture to the Law Commission.

The Commission has asked the government to ratify the UN convention to tide over the difficulties faced by the country in extraditing criminals. The draft Bill has recommended punishment for torture ranging from fine to life imprisonment. In case a person in police custody is found with injuries, it would be “presumed that those injuries have been inflicted by the police”.

The Bill proposes to give the courts the scope to decide a justiciable compensation for a victim, taking into consideration his or her social background, extent of injury or mental agony.

 

  1. Bureau of Indian Standards Act, 2016___

         The Bureau of Indian Standards Bill, 2015

 

  • The Bureau of Indian Standards Bill, 2015 was introduced in Lok Sabha by Mr. Ram Vilas Paswan, Minister of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution on August 7, 2015.  The Bill replaces the Bureau of Indian Standards Act, 1986.  The Act establishes a Bureau for the purpose of standardization, marking and certification of articles and processes.  The Bill seeks to broaden its ambit, and allow the central government to make it mandatory for certain notified goods, articles, processes, etc, to carry the standard mark.
  • Ambit of the Bureau of Indian Standards:  Under the 1986 Act, standardization, marking and certification processes applied to certain articles and processes.  The Bill includes goods, services and systems.  A good, service, article, process and system have been defined in the Bill.
  • Establishment of the Bureau of Indian Standards:  The Bureau of Indian Standards will be a national body which will formulate, implement and certify certain standards of quality for goods, services, articles, processes and systems.  The Bureau will constitute technical committees of experts for the purpose of formulating such standards.  The Bill constitutes a Governing Council which would be responsible to look at the general superintendence, direction and management of the Bureau.
  • Certification of goods, services, articles, etc:  The Bureau would be a licensing authority for quality standards.  A person may apply to the Bureau for a license to use a standard mark, or a certificate of conformity, depending on the good, article, process, etc.  A license or certificate of conformity indicates that the item conforms to the Indian standard as set by the Bureau.  The Bureau will establish and maintain testing laboratories for quality assurance and conformity assessment of goods, articles, services, etc.
  • Certification of precious metals:  A hallmark will be used to certify precious metal articles including silver, gold, platinum, and palladium or their alloys.  A hallmark indicates a proportionate content of the precious metal in the article, as per the Indian standard.  Such articles will be sold in certified sales outlets.
  • Mandatory certification of certain goods: The Bill allows the central government to notify certain goods, articles, etc, which will need to compulsorily carry a standard mark.  Such goods or articles will be notified by the government if it thinks them to be necessary for: (i) public interest or for the protection of human, animal or plant health, (ii) safety of the environment, (iii) prevention of unfair trade practices, or (iv) national security.
  • Recall of goods, services, articles etc:  The Bureau may recall a good or article which is already out for sale or supply.  This will be done if the Bureau is convinced that the good or article does not conform to the requirement of a particular standard.
  • Penalties:  The penalty for improper use of the Indian standard mark will be a fine of up to five lakh rupees.  The Bill also prescribes penalties for: (i) the improper use of the standard mark by testing and marking centres, and (ii) manufacturing or selling goods and articles which do not carry a standard mark and have been mandated to do so, among others.  The Bill provides for compounding of offences punishable with fine except when a person has committed such an offence for the second time or if such an offence committed by him has been compounded earlier.
  • Offences by companies:  When a company commits an offence under the Bill, the persons responsible for or in charge of the company will be presumed to be guilty irrespective of whether the offence was committed without their knowledge, consent or connivance.
  • Appeals:  An appeal against an order regarding the granting of a license or certificate of conformity, or compounding of offences, may be made to the Director General of the Bureau.  A further appeal against the order of the Director General may then be made to the central government.

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7. Finance Commission

 Former Planning Commission Member N K Singh was on Monday appointed chairman of 15th Finance Commission, which among other things has been asked to look into the impact of GST on finances of both the Centre and states, said a government notification.

The other members of the commission, which is required to submit its report by October 2019, are former Economic Affairs Secretary Shaktikanta Das and former Chief Economic Advisor Ashok Lahiri, Niti Aayog Member Ramesh Chand and Georgetown University professor Anoop Singh.

The commission will review the current status of the finance, deficit, debt levels, cash balances and fiscal discipline efforts of the Union and the states.

It will also recommend a fiscal consolidation road map for sound fiscal management.

As per Article 280 of the Constitution, the commission is required to make recommendations on the distribution of the net proceeds of taxes between the Centre and the states.

The commission also suggests the principles which should govern the grants in aid of the revenues of the states out of the Consolidated Fund of India.
As per the terms of reference, the panel will also “the impact of the GST, including payment of compensation for possible loss of revenues for 5 years, and abolition of a number of cesses, earmarking thereof for compensation and other structural reforms programme, on the finances of Centre and states”, said the notification.
Further, the commission will examine progress made in promoting ease of doing business by effecting related policy and regulatory changes and promoting labour intensive growth.
The new Finance Commission will cover five-year period commencing April 1, 2020.
The 14th Finance Commission was set up on January 2, 2013. Its recommendations cover the period from April 1, 2015 to March 31, 2020.

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8. Probity in Judiciary under Question ______ Urgent reform is required to restore the moral authority of the Supreme Court

On November 10, a five-judge Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court led by the Chief Justice of India, in a case concerning corruption arising out of certain judicial proceedings, declared that the Chief Justice is the master of the roster with the sole prerogative to determine which Bench of judges gets to hear which cases. That the Chief Justice, as the head of the judiciary, determines the roster is a platitude that pales in public significance to the critical role of the Chief Justice as the embodiment of moral authority of the entire judicial system. This moral authority suffered a fatal blow when the Chief Justice chose to reassert his own administrative powers in the face of allegations concerning the possible lack of probity of senior public functionaries. The situation demanded statesmanship — unfortunately the Court engaged in whataboutery, raising the spectre of contempt of court, only to drop it finally.

A criminal conspiracy

The genesis of this episode lies in the filing of petitions by Prasad Education Trust before the Supreme Court and Allahabad High Court. The trust operated a medical college whose permission to run certain courses had been declined. Justices Dipak Misra, Amitava Roy, P.C. Pant, A.M. Khanwilkar and D.Y. Chandrachud heard the parties and passed several orders in the Supreme Court; Justices Narayan Shukla and Virendra Kumar-II passed an interim order in Allahabad High Court.

A simultaneous investigation by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) indicated a possible criminal conspiracy to ensure a favourable judicial order in this matter. According to its FIR, two persons managing the affairs of the trust, approached a retired judge of Allahabad and Odisha High Courts, Justice I.M. Quddusi, through Sudhir Giri of the Venkateshwara Medical College (part of Venkateshwara University, in whose case another judgment had been passed by Justice Dipak Misra in the Supreme Court). Quddusi recommended the filing of a petition before the Allahabad High Court, in which partial relief was granted.

Subsequently, when the matter again reached the Supreme Court, the FIR reveals that Quddusi and his associates assured the trust of getting the matter “settled” in the Supreme Court through “their contacts” and engaged Biswanath Agrawala, a resident of Bhubaneswar. Agrawala claimed “very close contact with senior relevant public functionaries” and demanded significant gratification for settling the case. Quddusi, Agrawala and four associates have now been arrested for offences under the Prevention of Corruption Act and the Indian Penal Code.

Since the FIR indicated an attempt to fix a judicial proceeding, the Campaign for Judicial Accountability and Reforms filed a writ petition in the Supreme Court requesting that a Special Investigation Team under a retired Chief Justice of India be set up. This request was made since it was apprehended that leaving the investigation to the CBI might mean allowing the government to influence judges who would be brought under investigation.

The merits of such a request are a distinct matter. However, propriety would plausibly demand that since the FIR pertained to a case where Justice Misra had been the presiding judge, as Chief Justice of India, he would not perform his default role of allocating Benches for determination of this case or exercise his prerogative of hearing the case himself. Doing so would imply that the Chief Justice would not be “like Caesar’s wife”, the puritanical standard of propriety the Court expects of public servants. The same principle would apply to any judge in the Supreme Court and Allahabad High Court who had earlier participated in the proceedings. Recusal would not be an admission of complicity; instead it would be an affirmation of the principle that justice not only be done but be seen to be done.

Diminishing propriety

Unfortunately, by allocating the matter to a Division Bench, the Chief Justice gave this principle a go-by. It is moot whether the Bench entrusted by the Chief Justice would ensure justice or not — the critical point is that such a Bench chosen by the Chief Justice was congenitally defective. This impropriety set off a chain of improper actions — filing of a second petition in the same matter, hearing of the second petition by Justice J. Chelameswar, the second-most senior judge of the Supreme Court, and an order by his Bench that the matter should be heard by five senior-most judges of the Court.

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To be certain, devoid of context, each of these actions is improper. But the impropriety in these actions is technical and not substantive. That it is the prerogative of the Chief Justice alone to list matters and constitute Benches is a convention based on long practice. However, when doing so would cast a shadow of doubt on the process of justice delivery itself, it is not only proper but also necessary that this task is performed by another judge. The Court cannot stand on formality and sacrifice substantive justice for a vacuous conception of prerogative power.

This episode of plausible administrative impropriety was unfortunately compounded by the Chief Justice constituting a five-judge Bench, including himself, to hear the matter on the judicial side. A resounding reiteration of the Chief Justice’s own powers to determine the roster, annulling the order of Justice Chelameswar and hearing supportive bystanders in the Court, were signs of a Court ignoring the need for justice to be seen to be done. Again, whether the right decision was reached or not is moot — a decision was reached in which the Chief Justice was unarguably judge in his own cause. That itself suffices to make this judgment bad in law.

Glasnost and perestroika

To blame one individual or another, or attribute motives for this episode would be to miss the wood for the trees. Instead, there are two structural issues of consequence to anyone who cares about judicial integrity. First, the cardinal principle that the Chief Justice of India is the master of the roster must be re-examined. Although there can scarcely be any argument against it as a tenet of judicial discipline, it would be naive to consider it an absolute principle of justice delivery.

In the U.K., Lord Chancellors had, for long, used the prerogative of Bench selection to serve partisan ends. As scholar Diana Woodhouse writes, Lord Halsbury wanted the power of trade unions reduced and selected Benches accordingly; Lord Hailsham chose Benches to constrict his colleague Lord Atkin’s ability to progressively interpret the law and Lord Loreburn’s cherry-picking of judges to reach favourable conclusions is well-known. The history of such abuse of prerogative led the U.K. to statutorily establish two leadership positions in the new Supreme Court — that of the President and the Deputy President, together with a professional registry and a Chief Executive. The unchecked power of the Chief Justice of India to constitute Benches must be similarly circumscribed. Doing so does not amount to mistrusting the Chief Justice, but rather being cognisant of changing demands of accountability.

Second, much has been said of the indiscipline demonstrated by Justice Chelameswar’s Bench in listing a case and determining the Bench that hears it. Discipline lies at the heart of judicial functioning — its complex rules on filing, unwritten conventions of seniority, expected decorum in courtroom seating are all critical components to ensure institutional discipline. But a single-minded reiteration of such formal norms appear perverse when confronted with a case where the personal probity of individuals in the judiciary is in doubt. If only to conclusively dispel such doubt, an independent investigation was warranted. This might well have been the logical conclusion of the technically improper order passed by Justice Chelameswar’s Bench listing the matter before the five senior-most judges.

For several senior members of the Bar to focus solely on this apparent impropriety while remaining blind to graver improprieties elsewhere and larger questions of probity is symptomatic of a legal fraternity that steadfastly refuses to practice the values it preaches to others. Closing ranks and taking refuge in hidebound norms of propriety is like playing the proverbial fiddle, while pretending that public confidence in the judiciary is a gift that will keep on giving.

Justice Kurian Joseph of the Supreme Court wrote in respect of judicial appointments that a ‘glasnost’ and ‘perestroika’ is required if the system is to regain public confidence. If the moral authority of the Chief Justice of India and the Supreme Court is to be restored, something similar is needed urgently. Otherwise the Supreme Court will soon be a far cry from the institution we all revere. Some might say, it already is.

 

 7 1.5. Program to Train Elected Women Representatives of Panchayati Raj Institutions_Trained EWRs will help connect people at the grassroots to the benefits of Government programmes: Smt Maneka Sanjay Gandhi

Trained women representatives will ensure greater accountability, honesty and transparency in the execution of the developmental projects: Panchayati Raj Minister

A comprehensive module for capacity building of Elected Women Representatives (EWRs) of Panchayats and a training program for Trainers of women panchayat leaders across the country was launched by the Ministry of Women and Child Development in collaboration with the Ministry of Panchayati Raj today. The training program was launched at Ranchi, Jharkhand through a video conference, by the Minister of Women & Child Development, Smt Maneka Sanjay Gandhi in the presence of Minister of Rural Development & Panchayati Raj, Shri Narendra Singh Tomar in New Delhi today. The training program seeks to empower EWRs of panchayats by enhancing their capacity, capability and skill in governance and administration of villages.

Addressing the select women trainers/women sarpanches of Jharkhand at the video conference today, Smt Maneka Sanjay Gandhi said that inspite of 33% reservation for women in the panchayat bodies, the EWRs continue to remain ineffective since they do not have appropriate knowledge and skill to administer the village, and the show continues to be run by their husbands.

These women representatives will have to be trained in order to ensure that they take up the responsibility of all the tasks entrusted upon them on being elected, Smt Maneka Gandhi said. The Minister explained that it is due to this reason, the WCD Ministry has initiated this countrywide program of training the women sarpanches and other women representatives at the grassroots level in various areas like engineering (building of roads, drains, latrines etc.), finance, social development, education, health, and environment among others. Similarly, several new schemes have been launched by the Prime Minister , Shri Narendra Modi which bring benefit to the common man especially those in distress and the under privileged. The women sarpanches can be helpful in taking these schemes to the people at the grassroots level, the Minister said. These schemes include Fasal Beema Yojana, Pradhanmantri Awas Yojana, Suraksha Bima Yojana, Sukanya Samridhi Yojana, maternity benefits schemes among others. Apart from this, the training programme will help to raise these women to the next level of leadership , said Smt Maneka Gandhi.

The WCD Minister said that safety of women, education of the girl child, health of women, creation of assets under MGNREGA, immunization and ensuring nutrition through lakhs of Anganwadis of the country have become important issues at the grassroots level in which the women sarpanches can play a pivotal role in effective delivery. The Minster suggested that the women sarpanches should form a whatsapp group and share their good practices as well as assist one another in finding solutions to common problems.

Speaking on the occasion, the Union Minister for Panchayati Raj, Rural Development and Drinking Water and Sanitation, Shri Narendra Singh Tomar said that under the 14th Finance Commission, the Panchayats will get Rs 2 Lakh crore in 5 years as against the earlier amount of Rs 30,000 crore for the overall development of the villages. He underlined the  need for greater accountability, honesty and transparency in the execution of the developmental projects like building of roads, drainage system, toilets, farm ponds and dwelling units which he hoped will be ensured by the newly trained women representatives.

Shri Tomar laid stress on advance planning by the Gram Panchayats to free their villages from scourges of poverty and malnutrition. He said that women Sarpanches can form groups in the villages to spread social awareness on schemes like Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, Pradhan Mantri Aawas Yojana, Immunisation, school enrolment, various insurance schemes for farmers and common man, benefits for pregnant women and BHIM App for cashless transaction. The training programme will lead to the empowerment of Women Sarpanches for the overall development of their villages and the country, explained the Panchayati Raj Minister.

The Chairperson, National Commission for Women, Smt Lalitha Kumaramangalam said that the training program will be closely monitored to ensure proper learning by the sarpanches and EWRs. Smt Lalitha Kumaramangalam also expressed hope that the EWRs will emerge as future leaders of the country.

In the first phase, 40 master trainers of Jharkhand will be trained at the State institute of Rural Development, Ranchi. In the second phase, approximately 3000 EWRs will be trained by these master trainers in the three districts of Simdega, Pakur and Chatra of Jharkhand.

Starting with Jharkhand, similar training programs will be organised in different states throughout the country with the help of National Institute of Rural Development, State Institutes of Rural Development and Panchayati Raj Departments of the States to train EWRs throughout the county. There are currently around 13 lakhs EWRs in panchayats across the nation.

The module has been prepared by the National Commission for Women of the WCD Ministry in collaboration with TISS. The module contains training guidelines, timeline, implementation guidelines, training schedules and monitoring and evaluation. The training will be participatory with group discussions, brainstorming lectures, demonstrations, field visits, case studies, games, exercise, role play, small workshops and individual assignments. The module discusses various topics like ‘What is an ideal Panchayat’, composition of the Gram Panchayat, development schemes and programmes, resources of panchayats and their utilization, laws for protection of the vulnerable sections among others.

 

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 10. More Seats for Sikkim Assembly _______

Proposal to help Limboos, Tamangs

The Home Ministry has proposed an increase in the number of seats in the Sikkim Assembly from 32 to 40. The expansion will be the first since the State merged with India in 1975.

The seats are being increased to accommodate people from the Limboo and Tamang communities, notified as the Scheduled Tribes in Sikkim in January 2003.

Of the eight seats proposed to be increased, five will be reserved for Limboo and Tamangs.

Now, Sikkim has 12 seats reserved for Bhutias and Lepchas, two for the Scheduled Castes, one seat for the Sanghas and 17 general seats.

As per constitutional provisions, the total number of seats for STs should be in proportion to the population.

The seats for Bhutia and Lepchas are reserved not on the basis of them being a Scheduled Tribe, but as a sequel to a political agreement in 1973 between the Government of India, ex-Chogyal (King) of Sikkim and political parties.

A petition was moved in the Supreme Court that Limboo and Tamangs were not adequately represented in the Assembly and the apex court on January 4, 2016 directed the Home Ministry to take necessary action. A senior government official said a proposal has been sent to the Ministry of Law and Justice to amend the Representation of the People Act (RPA) for the purpose. As per the Delimitation Act, 2002, the number of seats in an Assembly of any State can only be readjusted on the basis of the first census conducted after 2026.

The Law ministry also said that the final order made by the Delimitation Commission could not have been challenged by any court but the special constitutional provision to Sikkim allows them to make the changes.

Mr. Chamling also said that “the existing specific reservation of 12 seats for Bhutia and Lepcha communities, and one seat for Sangha constituency, which are given to them on the basis of being Scheduled Tribes should not be disturbed or tinkered with.”

A resolution passed by the Sikkim Assembly in 2009 had generated apprehension in the minds of the indigenous Bhutia-Lepchas and the expansion of the assembly seats could dilute their political rights until there was a “proportionate increase” of seats.

As a way out, Mr. Chamling suggested that the entire State assembly be designated as “Scheduled Tribes.” The ministry of Tribal affairs opposed the move as the remaining communities like Thami, Chhetri, Sanyasi, Newar, Kirt Khambu Rai, Kirat Dewan, Sunuwar, Gurung, Mangar and Bhujel did not fulfil the criteria.

“There will be amendments to the Second Schedule to the RP Act, 1950, whereby total seats in Sikkim Legislative Assembly will be 40 in place of existing 32, reserving five seats for Limboo and Tamang, while retaining existing reservations for Bhutias, Lepchas, Scheduled Castes and Sanghas,” a draft proposal of the home ministry said.

The proposal also said that Section 5A of the RP Act, 1951 will be amended to provide “that in case of a seat reserved for Limboo and Tamang tribe, he is to be a member of Limboo and Tamang tribe specified in the Representation of Sikkim Subjects Act, 1974 and elector or an assembly constituency in the State.”

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INTERNATIONAL

 

 

  1. India-EU ___________________________

14 2.1.1. India-Italy ___________________________ India and Italy today inked an MoU for enhanced cooperation in the health sector by pooling in technical, scientific, financial and human resources to upgrade infrastructural resources, medical education and research in both countries.

Health Minister J P Nadda said both the countries share a rich relationship which has been enhanced by high-level visits.

The MoU recognises the potential for exchange in the health sector between the two countries, and the need to tap the capabilities and opportunities in a focused and comprehensive manner, an official statement issued by the health ministry said.

Nadda and his Italian counterpart Beatrice Lorenzin signed the MoU in the presence of senior officers from the health ministry and a high-level delegation from Italy.

“The objective of the MoU is to establish cooperation between the two countries in the field of health by pooling technical, scientific, financial and human resources with the ultimate goal of upgrading the quality and infrastructural resources involved in health care, medical education and training and research in both countries,” the statement said.

The main areas of cooperation include exchange and training of doctors and other health professionals, assistance in development of human resource and setting up of health care facilities and regulation of pharmaceuticals, medical devices and cosmetics, it said.

It also includes promotion of business development opportunities in pharmaceuticals, procurement of generic and essential drugs as well as health equipment, collaboration in prevention of non-communicable disease (NCD) and in the field of climate change impact on communicable diseases and vector borne diseases,

 

 

  1. Chabahar Port

The first phase of the Chabahar port on the Gulf of Oman was inaugurated today by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, opening a new strategic route connecting Iran, India and Afghanistan bypassing Pakistan, and reflecting growing convergence of interests among the three countries.

The port in the Sistan-Balochistan province on the energy-rich nation’s southern coast is easily accessible from India’s western coast and is increasingly seen as a counter to Pakistan’s Gwadar Port, which is being developed with Chinese investment and is located at distance of around 80 kms from Chabahar.

The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) said Minister of State for Shipping Pon Radhakrishnan represented India at the inauguration ceremony of the Phase 1 of the Shahid Beheshti Port at Chabahar which was also attended by ambassadors and senior officials of the region.

An India-Iran-Afghanistan ministerial-level trilateral meeting on Chabahar also took place today on the sidelines of the event where the three countries resolved to work towards integrated development of connectivity infrastructure including ports, road and rail networks to open up greater opportunities for regional market access and integration of their economies.

The Chabahar port is being considered a gateway to golden opportunities for trade by India, Iran and Afghanistan with central Asian countries besides ramping up trade among the three countries in the wake of Pakistan denying transit access to New Delhi.

“The routes of the region should be connected on land, sea and air,” Rouhani said at the inauguration ceremony, according to his office.

India has been closely working with Afghanistan and Iran to create alternative, reliable access routes for trade.

Under the agreement signed between India and Iran in May last year, India is to equip and operate two berths in Chabahar Port Phase-I with capital investment of USD 85.21 million and annual revenue expenditure of USD 22.95 million on a 10-year lease.

The MEA, in a statement, said Radhakrishnan also represented India in the second India-Iran-Afghanistan ministerial-level trilateral meeting on Chabahar port in Chabahar today. Iran was represented by its Transport Minister Abbas Akhoundi and Afghanistan by its Trade and Commerce Minister Humayoon Rasaw.

In the meeting, the three countries assessed the progress in the development of the port and reiterated their commitment to complete and operationalise it at the earliest, which they felt would provide alternative access to landlocked Afghanistan to regional and global markets.

A joint statement issued after the meeting said the ministers also deliberated on trilateral pact relating to the mega connectivity project and expressed satisfaction on the completion of the ratification procedures by Afghanistan and India. They welcomed the steps taken by Iran to complete the ratification process.

In May 2016, India, Iran and Afghanistan had inked a pact which entailed establishment of Transit and Transport Corridor among the three countries using Chabahar Port as one of the regional hubs for sea transportation in Iran, besides multi- modal transport of goods and passengers across the three nations.

“The ministers discussed the next steps for full implementation of the agreement and moving towards its operationalisation. Towards this endeavour, it was decided to finalise protocols related to transport and transit, ports, customs procedures and consular affairs. It was also decided to convene an expert-level meeting of senior officials of the three countries at the earliest,” the joint statement said.

Reiterating the importance of Chabahar as a hub for regional economic connectivity and their commitment to work towards this objective, the ministers also commended the joint efforts of the three countries in the recent successful transit of wheat from India to Afghanistan through Chabahar.

“The ministers agreed that an integrated development of connectivity infrastructure including ports, road and rail networks would open up greater opportunities for regional market access and contribute towards the economic integration and benefit of the three countries and the region,” the statement said.

The ministers also agreed to organise a connectivity event involving all stakeholders at Chabahar at the earliest so as to increase awareness about the new opportunities offered by Chabahar Port.

The MEA said the meeting also commended the transit of first tranche of 1,10,000 tonnes of wheat from India to Afghanistan through the Chabahar Port.

It said Radhakrishnan expressed his positive appreciation to the Iranian side on the recent steps taken towards ratification by the Majlis of Iran on the Trilateral Transit and Trade Agreement signed in May 2016 between India, Iran and Afghanistan.

Speaking at the inauguration ceremony, Rouhani noted that transit is the best communication tool for nations, adding .

“the routes of the region should be connected on land, sea and air,” according to his office.

Ahead of the inauguration of the port, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj yesterday met her Iranian counterpart Javed Zarif in Tehran during which implementation of the Chabahar port project was discussed among other issues.

Swaraj made a stopover at Tehran on her return from Russian city of Sochi where she had attended the annual summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO).

Over a month ago, India had sent its first consignment of wheat to Afghanistan by sea through the Chabahar port, marking opening of the new transit route.

 

  1. India-Africa _________________________

Union Minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi today said the bilateral trade between India and Africa will cross $100 billion mark in next two years, owing to improvement in the business environment in India and better connectivity across the African continent.

The bilateral trade between India and the African nations was recorded around $57 billion in 2015-16.

“Africa offers lucrative business opportunities for Indian micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) across diverse sec ..
he bilateral trade between India and the African nations was recorded around $57 billion in 2015-16.

“Africa offers lucrative business opportunities for Indian micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) across diverse sectors such as FMCG (fast moving consumer goods), mining and minerals, telecommunications, construction and others,” Naqvi said at a conference organised by Assocham.
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  1. Iran Nuclear Deal ____________________

When the Obama administration sold its Iran nuclear deal to Congress in 2015, one of its primary arguments was that the agreement was narrow. It lifted only nuclear sanctions. America, President Barack Obama told us, would remain a vigilant foe of Iran’s regional predations through sanctions and other means.

Thanks to stunning new reporting from Politico’s Josh Meyer, we can now assess these assertions and conclude that they are … well, “alternative facts.”

Meyer reports that while the U.S. and other great powers were negotiating a deal to bring transparency to Iran’s nuclear program, top officials in Obama’s government dismantled a campaign, known as Operation Cassandra, intended to undermine Hezbollah’s global drug trafficking and money laundering network.

A few months after the implementation of that bargain in January 2016, Operation Cassandra was ripped apart. Agents were reassigned. Leads and sources dried up. Bad guys got away.

Hezbollah is many things: a Lebanese political party, a militia and a Shiite religious movement. It is also an arm of Iranian foreign policy. Hezbollah shock troops fight alongside Iran’s Revolutionary Guard commanders in Syria and Iraq. Iran uses the group’s operatives for international terror attacks in Latin America. Hezbollah’s advanced arsenal is supplied by the Iranian state. Hezbollah’s drug trafficking provides the revenue it needs to spread mayhem. To curb that trafficking is to starve Iran’s primary proxy.

The Obama administration believed cracking down on Hezbollah’s trafficking would undermine nuclear negotiations. As David Asher, a former Pentagon illicit finance analyst and a key player in Operation Cassandra, told Meyer: “This was a policy decision, it was a systematic decision. They serially ripped apart this entire effort that was very well supported and resourced, and it was done from the top down.”

The details are troubling. One example involves Ali Fayad, whom DEA agents suspected was the Hezbollah operative who reported directly to Russian president Vladimir Putin as a weapons supplier in Iraq and Syria. In 2014 Fayad was arrested by Czech authorities. Meyer reports that even though Fayad was indicted by U.S. courts for planning the murder of U.S. officials, “top Obama administration officials declined to apply serious pressure on the Czech government to extradite him to the United States, even as Putin was lobbying aggressively against it.” Fayad eventually found his way back to Lebanon, and is believed today to be back at his old job, supplying Russian heavy weapons to Iranian-backed militants in Syria.

If the Trump administration had let Fayad slip through the net of law enforcement, that would be a five-alarm scandal. And yet for Obama this was part of a pattern. Obama never asked Syria’s neighbors to deny fly-over rights to Russian aircraft in 2015, which could have slowed or prevented Putin from establishing air bases in Syria that were used to bomb civilians and aid workers.

Russia established those air bases less than two months after the end of the Iran nuclear negotiations. The chief of Iran’s Quds Force, Qassem Suleimani, also saw the close of the nuclear talks as a green light. He was soon on a plane to Moscow to iron out the tactical alliance between Russia and Iran in Syria as Obama went about trying to persuade more than a third of Congress to support the nuclear bargain.

Obama officials reached for comment disputed elements of Meyer’s reporting. Kevin Lewis, a spokesman for Obama, pointed to some European arrests of Hezbollah operatives after the implementation of the nuclear deal. But Meyer says officials with Operation Cassandra noted that these suspects were nabbed after the Obama Justice Department shot down efforts to prosecute these operatives in U.S. courts.

A particularly cringe-inducing response came from a senior national security official who suggested, anonymously, to Meyer that agents in a DEA operation might unwittingly botch a CIA or Israeli intelligence operation within Hezbollah.

That’s doubtful, at least for the CIA. As the Los Angeles Times reported in 2011 the agency’s Beirut station, which tracked Hezbollah, was put out of business after most of its sources were arrested that year. It’s highly unlikely the agency would have been able to build up its source network in a few short years. What’s more, the CIA director for Obama’s second term, John Brennan, had openly discussed his view of trying to separate Hezbollah hardliners from Hezbollah moderates in Washington policy forums. The decision to go soft on Hezbollah looks entirely deliberate.

So was all of this worth it? We know what the West got out of the nuclear deal: a temporary suspension of Iran’s nuclear program and increased transparency into its stockpiles, enrichment facilities and laboratories. At the time the Obama administration told us that in exchange, the U.S. had to lift only the crippling nuclear sanctions against Iran. It turns out the price was much higher.

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  1. Catalonia’s Independence Referendum __

The Spanish region of Catalonia is set to hold a referendum on independence on October 1.

The single question facing voters, “Do you want Catalonia to become an independent state in the form of a republic?”, has generated many more.

Why does the referendum matter?

Catalonia, an area in northeastern Spain of 7.5 million people, accounts for 15 percent of Spain’s population and 20 percent of its economic output.

About 1.6 million people live in Barcelona, Catalonia’s capital, which is a major tourist destination.

Sunday’s vote will be the region’s second referendum on independence in three years.

The previous ballot, a non-binding vote in November 2014, returned an 80 percent result in favour of an independent Catalan state. However, less than half of the 5.4 million eligible voters participated.

The Spanish government rejected the Generalitat’s, Catalonia’s regional government, proposal to hold a binding ballot on the grounds that it was unconstitutional. They take the same position on Sunday’s vote.

Who voted and how?

Only Catalan residents of voting age are entitled to participate in the referendum.

Up to 85 percent are in favour of holding the referendum, according to a poll conducted by El Periodico de Catalunya, a regional daily newspaper.

However, only about 41 percent said they intend to vote “Yes” to independence when asked in June of this year by the Centre for Opinion Studies, the regional government’s polling body.

A number of pro-union Catalans are expected to boycott the vote, on the grounds that the referendum is illegal.

Lluis Orriols Galve, a professor of politics at the Carlos III University of Madrid, told Al Jazeera that, despite expected disruption from Spanish authorities, many will be able to take part in the vote.

“The government will have big difficulties stopping the referendum in the territory, the state simply cannot control the whole region, but they will try to prevent it taking place in key areas such as Barcelona,” he said.

Ada Colau Ballano, Barcelona’s mayor, has reached an agreement with the regional government to allow voting in the city, despite opposing independence herself.

Why independence? Or why not?

Catalonia has a distinct history, culture and language.

First referenced in the 12th century, a defined region of Catalonia had existed for more than 250 years before it joined Spain during the country’s formation in the 16th Century.

As such, identity plays a large role in the debate surrounding independence.

Under the military government of Francisco Franco, from 1939-1975, Catalan culture was suppressed.

Symbols of Catalan identity such as the castells, or human towers, were prohibited and parents were forced to choose Spanish names for their children.

The Catalan language (also spoken in Valencia and the Balearic islands) was also restricted, said Sergi Mainer, a lecturer in Catalan culture at the University of Edinburgh.

“With Franco Catalan was banned publicly, publishing was controlled under censorship, after the coming of democracy the only official language was Castilian,” he told Al Jazeera.

“There was repression everywhere in Spain, but extra repression was felt in Catalonia.”

However, support for independence among Catalans isn’t universal.

“It’s a false referendum and many think if there’s no legal guarantee then it’s better not to vote,” Jorge Amado, president of Catalunya Somos Todos, a pro-union organisation for Catalans living outside the region (who aren’t eligible to vote), told Al Jazeera.

“It’s a manipulation. Manipulation of history, of the media, and of the Catalan people to promote this sense that Catalonia can’t be united with Spain.”

Why now?

The push for full autonomy appears to have gathered pace in recent years, most notably since Spain’s 2008 debt crisis.

“In that moment, people in Catalonia demanded more self-government and control over what is done with their money,” said Orriols.

Pro-independence supporters claim Catalonia, which is one of Spain’s wealthiest regions, offers more financial support to Spain than it receives from the central government in Madrid.

Many view the region’s strong economy as an indicator that it would be viable as a sovereign state.

Following a ruling by Spain’s constitutional court in 2010, which stated there is no legal basis for recognising Catalonia as a nation, independence appears to have taken preference over reform for a portion of the region’s population.

“Because of past experience, instead of demanding state reform, they started to support independence,” Orriols said.

How is Spain reacting?

Spain’s constitutional court ordered a suspension of the referendum the day after it was announced, following an appeal from the Spanish government who claimed the plebiscite would breach the country’s constitution.

Spain’s 1978 constitution decrees that the country is indivisible, and grants the national government exclusive power to hold referendums.

A majority of Spaniards outside of Catalonia, about 70 percent, oppose the referendum, according to Orriols.

Mariano Rajoy, the Spanish prime minister, has labelled the plan an “intolerable act of disobedience” and pledged to do everything in his power to prevent the vote from occurring.

Spanish authorities have arrested at least 14 Catalan officials, including Josep Maria Jove, the regional government’s junior economy minister, in recent weeks.

Officials have also carried out a number of raids, entered local government offices and seized referendum campaign material, including some 10 million ballot papers.

“The government is fulfilling its obligation [to comply with the judicial ruling], and I have to say that we will continue to do so until the end,” Rajoy said in a statement on September 20.

Carles Puigdemont, Catalan’s president, accused Madrid of acting in a “totalitarian” manner, saying “we condemn and reject the anti-democratic and totalitarian actions of the Spanish state” in a televised address on September 21.

Spain’s monarch, King Felipe VI, has declared the Spanish constitution “will prevail” over any attempt to break the country apart.

What powers does Catalonia already have?

In 1931, when Spain became a republic, Catalonia was given greater political autonomy within the confines of the state.

However, by 1939 its powers had been revoked following the Nationalists’ victory in the Spanish Civil War.

Following Franco’s death in 1975, Catalan autonomy re-emerged and flourished.

In 1979 a new Statute of Autonomy of Catalonia was issued, which restored the Catalan parliament.

Elections for the 135-member body were held the following year, on March 20.

The region, which forms one of Spain’s 17 “autonomous communities”, has its own police force and powers over affairs such as education, healthcare and welfare.

There are also provisions in place to protect Catalan identity, including joint language status for Catalan and Castilian and a law that requires teachers, doctors and public sector employees to use the Catalan language in their places of work.

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  1. The Kurdish Independence Referendum__

An independence referendum for Iraqi Kurdistan was held on 25 September 2017, with preliminary results showing approximately 93.25 percent of votes cast in favour of independence. Despite reporting that the independence referendum would be non-binding, the autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) characterised it as binding,[2][3][4] although they claimed that an affirmative result would trigger the start of state building and negotiations with Iraq rather than an immediate declaration of independence of Kurdistan.[5] The referendum’s legality was rejected by the federal government of Iraq.

It was originally planned to be held in 2014 amidst controversy and dispute between the regional and federal governments.[6]Calls for Kurdish independence had been going on for years, with an unofficial 2005 referendum resulting in 98% voting in favor of independence.[7] These longstanding calls gained impetus following the Northern Iraq offensive by Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant during the Iraqi Civil War in which Baghdad-controlled forces abandoned some areas, which were then taken by the Peshmerga and controlled de facto by the Kurds.

The referendum was announced and delayed on several occasions[8][9] as Kurdish forces co-operated with the Iraqi central government for the liberation of Mosul,[10] but by April 2017, it was being seen as happening some time in 2017.[11] On 7 June 2017, Kurdish President Masoud Barzani held a meeting with the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), and other ruling parties, where the independence referendum was confirmed to be held on 25 September 2017.

 

 

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  1. US Withdraws from UNESCO___________

The United States will withdraw from UNESCO at the end of next year, the State Department said Thursday, to stop accumulating unpaid dues and make a stand on what it said is anti-Israel bias at the U.N.’s educational, science and cultural organization.

In notifying UNESCO of the decision Thursday morning, the State Department said it would like to remain involved as a nonmember observer state. That will allow the United States to engage in debates and activities, though it will lose its right to vote on issues.

The withdrawal follows long-standing issues the U.S. has had with UNESCO and does not necessarily foreshadow a further retrenchment of U.S. engagement with the United Nations, where the Trump administration has been pushing to bring about structural and financial reforms.

“This is pragmatic, not a grander political signal,” said John McArthur, a fellow in the Global Economy and Development program at the Brookings Institution and an adviser to the United Nations Foundation.

The most immediate impact is that the U.S. will halt the arrears it has run up since it stopped funding the organization in 2011 to protest UNESCO’s admission of Palestine as a full member. By the end of this calendar year, the unpaid U.S. bill will amount to $550 million. With no sign that U.S. concerns would be addressed, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson decided to pull out after Dec. 31, 2018, when the unpaid balance will top $600 million.

State Department officials said they hope the withdrawal will  help push UNESCO to make changes that would satisfy Washington so the U.S. can resume full membership.

“It sends a strong message that we need to see fundamental reform in the organization, and it raises everyone’s awareness about continued anti-Israel bias,” said one official, speaking on condition of anonymity under department ground rules.

The United States helped found the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization after World War II, but has been at odds with it in recent years. State Department officials cited a 2012 decision not to expel Syria from its human rights committee after the civil war in that country began, and repeated resolutions that refer to Israel as an occupying power.

Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., said the last straw was when UNESCO this summer designated the old city of Hebron in the West Bank, with its Tomb of the Patriarchs, a Palestinian World Heritage site.

Calling UNESCO’s politicization a “chronic embarrassment,” Haley added, “Just as we said in 1984 when President Reagan withdrew from UNESCO, U.S. taxpayers should no longer be on the hook to pay for policies that are hostile to our values and make a mockery of justice and common sense.”

Haley said the United States will evaluate all U.N. agencies “through the same lens.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the decision to leave UNESCO “brave” and “moral.” Other Israeli officials, from both left and right, also praised the decision. Netanyahu said he had instructed the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to prepare for Israel’s withdrawal as well.

“UNESCO has become a theater of the absurd because, instead of preserving history, it distorts it,” he said in a statement.

Irina Bokova, director-general of UNESCO, expressed “profound regret” over the decision.

“At the time when the fight against violent extremism calls for renewed investment in education, in dialogue among cultures to prevent hatred, it is deeply regrettable that the United States should withdraw from the United Nations leading these issues,” she said in a statement, calling it a “loss for multilateralism.”

The withdrawal marks another decision by the Trump administration to distance itself from the international community.

“The continued retrenchment of the U.S. administration from active participation in international diplomacy efforts and dialogue is deeply concerning to the scientific community,” said Rush Holt, head of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

UNESCO is perhaps best known for the World Heritage program, which helps maintain major cultural sites around the globe. But it runs a wide range of international programs. It trains Afghan police officers how to read and write, and is the only U.N. agency that has a program to teach the history of the Holocaust.

The withdrawal decision comes as UNESCO members are voting on a replacement for Bokova. Qatar’s Hamad bin Abdulaziz al-Kawari is leading France’s Audrey Azoulay and Egyptian hopeful Moushira Khattab in the first voting rounds. Israeli officials and American Jewish groups have expressed concerns about Kawari for what they have said is a record of fostering anti-Semitism.

UNESCO was established to help promote global cooperation around the flow of ideas, culture and information. UNESCO’s mission includes programs to improve access to education, preserve cultural heritage, improve gender equality and promote scientific advances and freedom of expression.

After the 1984 withdrawal, for what was described as pro-Soviet Union bias, the U.S. didn’t rejoin until 2002 when the George W. Bush administration said it wanted to emphasize a message of international cooperation. “America will participate fully in its mission to advance human rights, tolerance and learning,” Bush said at the time.

Tensions have returned in recent years. Israel recalled its ambassador to the Paris-based organization last year after some governments supported a resolution that denounced Israel’s policies on religious sites in East Jerusalem and the West Bank.

Bokova said the partnership between the United States and UNESCO “has never been so meaningful,” despite the withholding of U.S. funding.

“Together, we have worked to protect humanity’s shared cultural heritage in the face of terrorist attacks and to prevent violent extremism through education and media literacy,” she said.

She added: “The American poet, diplomat and Librarian of Congress, Archibald MacLeish, penned the lines that open UNESCO’s 1945 Constitution: ‘Since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defences of peace must be constructed.’ This vision has never been more relevant.”

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  1. Palestine Joins Interpol ____

 

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  1. . INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS __________

 UNSC Reform________________________The Security Council’s membership and working methods reflect a bygone era.  Though geopolitics have changed drastically, the Council has changed relatively little since 1945, when wartime victors crafted a Charter in their interest and awarded “permanent” veto-wielding Council seats for themselves.

Since 1993, the UN General Assembly has hotly debated Council reform but has not been able to reach agreement.  A handful of states aspire to “permanent” status for themselves, while many other countries reject such claims. This site posts information and documents about the reform process, including analysis of the state-of-play and statements by nations and negotiating blocs.  In the background section, we have posted GPF’s own policy paper on the problems, dynamics and options for truly Democratic Reform of the Security Council in additional to more general information about Security Council reform.

To enrich the current information, we offer a large archive on reform discussions in previous years.  These materials are divided into four sections. The Membership section looks at the addition of both permanent members and elected members.  Such changes require amendments to the UN Charter, a lengthy and onerous process. The section on Working Methods considers the procedures of the Council and the way it conducts its work.  Unlike membership changes, these reforms do not require Charter change and the Council itself can implement them. The section on the Veto looks closely at this key issue and whether it could (and should) be eliminated or curtailed. The Regional Representation section examines the arguments for and against supranational organizations, like the EU, as potential candidates for Council membership.

There are many general documents, articles and statements throughout the respective pages. Documents produced by the UN can be found on the UN Documents page and include the documents, reports, draft resolutions and official statements from the Council reform process.

The reform of the Council is part of the broader issue of UN Reform, to build a more effective and democratic global institution.  This includes the reform of other bodies like the General Assembly and the Economic and Social Council, as well as improvement in the organization’s management and finance.

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10. Belt and Road Initiative __The $900bn question: What is the Belt and Road initiative?

It’s a confusing title but it could turn out to be the largest ever infrastructure project with close to a trillion dollars being invested across the globe

China is leading the effort to create the world’s largest economic platform.

More than 2,000 years ago, China’s imperial envoy Zhang Qian helped to establish the Silk Road, a network of trade routes that linked China to Central Asia and the Arab world. The name came from one of China’s most important exports—silk. And the road itself influenced the development of the entire region for hundreds of years.

In 2013, China’s president, Xi Jinping, proposed establishing a modern equivalent, creating a network of railways, roads, pipelines, and utility grids that would link China and Central Asia, West Asia, and parts of South Asia. This initiative, One Belt and One Road (OBOR), comprises more than physical connections. It aims to create the world’s largest platform for economic cooperation, including policy coordination, trade and financing collaboration, and social and cultural cooperation. Through open discussion, OBOR can create benefits for everyone.

The State Council authorized an OBOR action plan in 2015 with two main components: the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road (exhibit). The Silk Road Economic Belt is envisioned as three routes connecting China to Europe (via Central Asia), the Persian Gulf, the Mediterranean (through West Asia), and the Indian Ocean (via South Asia). The 21st Century Maritime Silk Road is planned to create connections among regional waterways. More than 60 countries, with a combined GDP of $21 trillion, have expressed interest in participating in the OBOR action plan.

 

The effort has already made some practical achievements. China has signed bilateral cooperation agreements related to the project with Hungary, Mongolia, Russia, Tajikistan, and Turkey. A number of projects are under way, including a train connection between eastern China and Iran that may be expanded to Europe. There are also new rail links with Laos and Thailand and high-speed-rail projects in Indonesia. China’s Ningbo Shipping Exchange is collaborating with the Baltic Exchange on a container index of rates between China and the Middle East, the Mediterranean, and Europe. More than 200 enterprises have signed cooperation agreements for projects along OBOR’s routes.

In 2014, China established the $40 billion Silk Road Fund to finance these initiatives, and it has made investments in several key projects. These projects are just the start as OBOR enters a new stage of more detailed and comprehensive development. This work will see the development of six major economic corridors, including the New Eurasian Land Bridge, China–Mongolia–Russia, China–Central Asia–Western Asia, Indo-China Peninsula, China–Pakistan, and Bangladesh–China–India–Myanmar. These corridors will be the sites of energy and industrial clusters and will be created through the use of rail, roads, waterways, air, pipelines, and information highways. By both connecting and enhancing the productivity of countries along the new Silk Road, China hopes the benefits of cooperation can be shared and that the circle of friendship will be strengthened and expanded.

China seeks to take the interests of all parties into account so as to generate mutual benefits, including environmental management and closer cultural exchanges. We wish to give full play to the comparative advantages of each country and promote all-around practical cooperation.

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11. ASEAN ______ASEAN | ONE VISION ONE IDENTITY ONE COMMUNITY

 

ASEAN  one vision one identity and one community

 

Asean leaders on Republic Day guest list as India pushes its Act East policy

The parade on Republic Day is expected to feature an Asean-India tableau, with artistes from member countries performing the Ramayan

Quadrilateral Meeting _______________Ahead of the Quadrilateral meeting, PM Modi must be cautious about bringing big powers into South Asia

By accepting an invitation to join the Japan-proposed, U.S.-endorsed plan for a “Quadrilateral” grouping including Australia to provide alternative debt financing for countries in the Indo-Pacific, India has taken a significant turn in its policy for the subcontinent. Explaining the need to invite other countries into what India has always fiercely guarded as its own turf, Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar was remarkably candid. “Our neighbours also feel more secure if there is another party in the room,” he said recently, giving examples of working with the U.S. on transmission lines in Nepal or with Japan on a liquefied natural gas pipeline in Sri Lanka. His words contain a tacit admission: that having India in the room is no longer comforting enough for our neighbours.

The Quad pivot?

As Prime Minister Narendra Modi heads to the East Asia summit in the Philippines next week, where the first ‘Quad’ meeting is likely to be held, it is necessary that India analyse the impact of this admission on all our relations. It would also serve as a useful exercise to understand why India has conceded it requires “other parties” in the neighbourhood, even as it seeks to counter the influence of China and its Belt and Road Initiative.

One reason is that as a growing economy with ambitious domestic targets, India’s own needs often clash with those of its neighbours. More connectivity will eventually mean more competition, whether it is for trade, water resources, or energy. Take, for example, the case of Bhutan, which is working, with India’s assistance, on its own goal of producing 10,000 MW of hydropower by 2020.

Even as Indian and Chinese troops were facing off at Doklam on land claimed by Bhutan, a very different sort of tension was claiming the attention of the government in Thimphu. The first indicator came on May 8, when in his budget speech at the National Assembly, the Bhutanese Finance Minister warned that the external debt is about 110% of GDP, of which a staggering 80.1% of GDP (or 155 billion Nu, or $2.34 billion) is made up by hydropower debt mainly to India. In April, the International Monetary Fund’s world economic outlook had already put Bhutan at the top of South Asia in terms of the highest debt per capita, second only to Japan in all of Asia for indebtedness. The budget figures attracted much criticism for the Bhutanese government, and opposition taunts that Bhutan could become the “Greece of South Asia” forced Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay to appoint a three-member committee. In a government order he said that said the negative media, public perception and “absence of strategy” could even affect the “larger and more important relationship between Bhutan and India.”

Among the committee’s findings were that Bhutan’s external hydropower debt financed by India at 9-10% rates was piling up, with the first interest and principal payments expected in 2018, and construction delays, mainly due to Indian construction issues, were taking the debt up higher. Above all, despite several pleas to the Ministries of External Affairs and Power, the Cross Border Trade of Electricity (CBTE) guidelines issued by India had not been revised, which put severe restrictions on Bhutanese companies selling power, and on allowing them access to the power exchange with Bangladesh.

In the Power Ministry’s reckoning, relations with Bhutan took a backseat to the fact that India already has a power surplus, and its new renewable energy targets come from solar and wind energy, not hydropower. Moreover, given falling prices for energy all around, India could not sustain the Bhutanese demand that power tariffs be revised upwards. Eventually, it wasn’t until early October that Mr. Jaishankar visited Thimphu and subsequently the visit last week of King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck began to address the problem that has been brewing for more than a year.

History of forgetting

Another problem is what one diplomat in the region calls ‘India’s big game hunting attitude’: “India chases its neighbours to cooperate on various projects and courts us assiduously, but once they have ‘bagged the game’, it forgets about us. As a result, crises grow until they can no longer be ignored, and the hunt begins again.” Over the past decade, since the defeat of the LTTE, India passed up offers to build the port in Hambantota, Colombo, and Kankesanthurai, despite Sri Lanka’s pressing need for infrastructure. At the time, given India’s crucial support in defeating the LTTE, Sri Lanka was considered “in the bag”. With the U.S. and other Western countries also taking strident positions over human rights issues and the reconciliation process, Chinese companies stepped in and won these projects, for which Sri Lanka recklessly took loans from China’s Exim bank.

New Delhi has changed its position on Hambantota several times, going from initial apathy, to disapproval of the Chinese interest, to scoffing at the viability of the project, to open alarm at the possibility of any Chinese PLA-Navy installation in Sri Lanka’s southern tip. Finally this year, upturning everything it has said, the government decided to bid for the Mattala Rajapaksa International Airport at Hambantota, a $205 million investment for the empty facility that sees an average of two flights a day. Even as a ‘listening post’, it is an expensive proposition, with some officials now suggesting a flight training school at Mattala to defray the cost. India is also hoping to win the bid to develop Trincomalee port with several projects. Clearly India is moving in now to build a counter to China in the neighbourhood, but it may be too little, too late and a little too expensive.

India has also been ambivalent on tackling political issues in its region, often trapped between the more interventionist approach of the U.S., which has openly championed concerns over ‘democratic values’ and human rights in Sri Lanka, Maldives and Bangladesh, and the approach of China, which is to turn a blind eye to all but business and strategic interests. In Nepal, India lost out to China when it allowed a five-month-long blockade at the border, calling for a more inclusive constitution to be implemented by Kathmandu — but in the case of Myanmar, it lost precious ground in Bangladesh when Mr. Modi refused to mention the Rohingya refugee situation during a visit to Nay Pyi Taw. In both cases, India reversed its stand, adding to the sense that it is unsure of its next steps when dealing with neighbours on political issues.

Multiple rivalries

Finally, it is important to note that while the government’s new plan to involve the U.S. and Japan in development projects in South Asia will yield the necessary finances, it will come at the cost of India’s leverage in its own backyard. India’s counter to China’s persistent demand for a diplomatic mission in Thimphu, for example, could be to help the U.S. set up a parallel mission there — but once those floodgates open, they will be hard to shut.

In Sri Lanka, the U.S. and Japan will now partner in India’s efforts to counter China’s influence, but whereas India objected to Chinese naval presence in the Indian Ocean, it will not be able to object to an increase in U.S. naval warships and Japanese presence there. Writing about Myanmar in a new book, India Turns East: International Engagement and US-China Rivalry, the former French diplomat Frédéric Grare says the emergence of new players like the U.S., Europe and Japan has only increased multiple regional rivalries in the region.“This does partly benefit India, who is no longer isolated vis-à-vis Beijing,” he concludes. “But New Delhi’s political profile has consequently diminished.”

Mr. Modi, who began his pitch for his “neighbourhood first” plan by inviting the neighbours to his swearing-in ceremony in 2014, must look before he leaps while inviting other powers, howsoever well-meaning, into the neighbourhood.

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  1. India-Sri Lanka_______________________

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13.Indian Jugde Re-elected at ICJ _________

The Prime Minister congratulated Justice Dalveer Bhandari in tweets and Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj and her team for “their untiring efforts that have led to India’s re-election to the ICJ,” also thanking members of the two UN chambers for their support. “Vande Matram – India wins election to the International Court of Justice. Jai Hind (sic),” Ms Swaraj tweeted.

  1. One-third of the ICJ’s 15-member bench, or five judges, is elected every three years for a nine-year term. Elections are held separately but simultaneously in the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) and the UN Security Council in New York. To win, a candidate needs to get a majority in both chambers.
  2. This is the first time since the ICJ, based in The Hague, Netherlands, was established in 1945 that there will be no British judge. “It is wrong to continue to take up the valuable time of the Security Council and the UN General Assembly with further rounds of election,” Britain’s Ambassador to the UN Matthew Rycroft said as he announced that Justice Greenwood was pulling out.
  3. Once the British candidate withdrew, both the UNGA and the security council formally voted to elect Justice Dalveer Bhandari, a former Supreme Court judge. He received 183 out of 193 votes in the General Assembly and all the 15 votes in the Security Council.
  4. Syed Akbaruddin, Permanent Representative of India to the United Nations, described Justice Dalveer Bhandari’s re-election as a “victory for emerging new India,” and an “acknowledgement that the world now needs to make space for an asserting India.”
  5. He told NDTV that huge diplomatic effort was made by the political leadership in India, with Ms Swaraj calling several world leaders. “There was a crucial meet before the vote. We put forward our view and stuck to it. It was apparent that vote will be in our favour. We are grateful that the UK judge recused and recognised that the Indian judge was doing good in UNGA,” Mr Akbaruddin said.
  6. Mr Rycroft congratulated Justice Dalveer Bhandari on being re-elected, saying, “If the UK could not win in this run-off, then we are pleased that it is a close friend like India that has done so instead. We will continue to cooperate closely with India, here in the United Nations and globally.”
  7. On November 9, the UNGA and Security Council members had elected judges to four of the five seats, with India and Britain competing for the fifth.  Repeatedly over 11 rounds, the UNGA, made up of 193 countries, voted overwhelmingly for  Dalveer Bhandari, while the 15-member Security Council voted 9 to 5 in favour of Britain, which is one of five permanent members of the security council. India is currently not a member.
  8. In all previous such contests, the candidate who got a majority in the General Assembly was eventually elected, but Britain was at one point seen to be pushing for a joint conference mechanism, never resorted to since the UN was established and only once before that.
  9. A joint conference would’ve involved picking three countries each from the the UNGA and the UNSC, which would then choose one candidate. Critics had warned that such a move would be “dirty politics”  and other members of the powerful UN Security Council were reportedly uneasy, aware of the long-term implications of a move to ignore the voice of the majority of the United Nations General Assembly.

 

_14. India-Singapore____________________India and Singapore exchanged documents on bilateral naval cooperation on Wednesday (Nov 29), reflecting deeper defence ties between the two countries amid mutual concerns about protecting critical sea lanes.

Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen, who is on a three-day visit to India, met with his Indian counterpart Nirmala Sitharaman under the Second Defence Ministers’ Dialogue. They later witnessed the exchange of the documents.

The India-Singapore Bilateral Agreement for Navy Cooperation was finalised during the talks. A joint statement noted that the agreement “will lead to increased cooperation in maritime security, joint exercises, temporary deployments from each other’s naval facilities and mutual logistics support”.

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  1. UN Partnership Fund ________________
    India has pledged an additional USD 100 million towards the UN partnership fund, significantly scaling up it support to sustainable development projects across the developing world.

The India–UN Development Partnership Fund was set up earlier this year as a partnership between India and the United Nations Office for South–South Cooperation (UNOSSC).

Anjani Kumar, Counsellor at the Permanent Mission of India to the UN, announced the multi-year contribution at the 2017 UN Pledging Conference for Development Activities yesterday.

This contribution would be in addition to USD 10.582 million India is contributing to various other UN programmes, Kumar said.

“I am happy to announce that India has now decided to significantly scale up the contribution to the fund through a multiyear contribution of USD 100 million,” Kumar said on behalf of India. “India believes that the UN should have the necessary resources to finance its activities, in an appropriate and balanced manner,” he said.

The first project from the fund is being executed in partnership with seven Pacific Island countries. The fund has since then identified 15 more projects, he noted. “Of the USD 5 million India contributed to the fund this year, USD 2 million would be utilised for reconstruction in Dominica and Antigua and Barbuda, which took a big hit from hurricanes,” he said.

Among major contributions include UNDP (USD 4.5 million), World Food Programme (USD 1.92

 

million Biennium 2017–18), United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Near East (USD 1.25 million), UN Women (USD 1 million) and United Nations Children’s Fund (USD 862, 000).

United Nations Population Fund (USD 5,00,000), United Nations Commission on Human Settlements Programme (USD 1,50,000), United Nations Environment Programme (USD 1,00,000), United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (USD 1,00,000) and Voluntary Fund for Technical Cooperation (USD 2,00,000) will also recieve funding.

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16. Global Conference on Cyber Space ____ Cybersecurity needs to be integrated in every aspect of policy and planning

India is one of the key players in the digital and knowledge-based economy, holding more than a 50% share of the world’s outsourcing market. Pioneering and technology-inspired programmes such as Aadhaar, MyGov, Government e-Market, DigiLocker, Bharat Net, Startup India, Skill India and Smart Cities are propelling India towards technological competence and transformation. India is already the third largest hub for technology-driven startups in the world and its Information and Communications Technology sector is estimated to reach the $225 billion landmark by 2020.

However, these achievements come with a problem: innovation in technology, enhanced connectivity, and increasing integration in commerce and governance also make India the fifth most vulnerable country in the world in terms of cybersecurity breaches, according to the Internal Security Threat Report of 2017 by Symantec. Till June 2017, 27,482 cybersecurity threats had been reported in the country, according to the Indian Computer Emergency Response Team’s report. As this is a 23% increase from 2014 figures, it coincides with rapid growth and innovation in the ICT sector.

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The good news, though, is that India recognises this. The second Global Cybersecurity Index, released by the International Telecommunication Union in July, which measured the commitment of nations to cybersecurity, found that India ranked 23 out of 165 nations.

Types of attacks

Of the cybersecurity attacks, Ransomware attacks have been the most common in the last few years (Ransomware is a type of software that threatens to publish a person’s data or block it unless a ransom is paid). Apart from WannaCry and Petya, other Ransomware attacks that made news globally were Locky, Cerber, Bucbi, SharkRaaS, CryptXXX and SamSam. The success of each of these inspired new attacks. The ransom demands also increased — the average mean ransom demand rose from $294 in 2015 to $1077 in 2016, according to Symantec.

In India, in May 2017, a data breach at the food delivery App, Zomato, led to personal information of about 17 million users being stolen and put for sale on the Darknet. The company had to negotiate with the hacker in order to get it taken down. Similarly, hackers stole data from 57 million Uber riders and drivers. Uber paid the hackers $100,000 to keep the data breach a secret.

While Windows operating systems were the most vulnerable to cyberattacks, a number of Android threats have been reported in the last couple of years, including potent crypto-ransomware attacks on Android devices. The attacks aren’t limited to mobile phones and e-Pads. All devices, including televisions that use Android, are also potentially vulnerable. In 2016, the first known Ransomware, named KeRanger, targeting Mac users was also reported. The Mirai botnet malware affected 2.5 million home router users and other Internet of Things devices. A number of viruses, malware and cryptoworms are also being developed in the JavaScript, which gives the attackers cross-platform options.

Taking action

Given the huge number of online users and continued efforts on affordable access, cybersecurity needs to be integrated in every aspect of policy and planning. At the 15th Asia Pacific Computer Emergency Response Team conference in Delhi, Minister for Electronics and Information Technology Ravi Shankar Prasad highlighted the need for robust cybersecurity policies and frameworks. The government is keen to fund cybersecurity research. It announced that it will award a grant worth 5 crore to startups working on innovations in the field of cybersecurity.

India needs to quickly frame an appropriate and updated cybersecurity policy, create adequate infrastructure, and foster closer collaboration between all those involved to ensure a safe cyberspace. Minister of Communications Manoj Sinha said at the Global Conference on Cyberspace 2017 that there must be enhanced cooperation among nations and reaffirmed a global call to action for all United Nations member nations to not attack the core of the Internet even when in a state of war. This also clearly emphasises the fact that more than ever before, there is a need for a Geneva-like Convention to agree on some high-level recommendations among nations to keep the Internet safe, open, universal and interoperable.

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  1. Global Entrepreneurship Summit 2017_The Union Cabinet chaired by the Prime Minister Narendra Modi has given its ex-post facto approval for the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed between India and the USA for co-hosting the Global Entrepreneurship Summit (GES) 2017 in India.

The MoU delineated the responsibilities, areas of co-operation including logistics and venue related requirements between the parties for smooth conduct of the Summit, informed ministry on Wednesday in New Delhi.

The GES-2017 provided excellent opportunity to entrepreneurs and investors to have meetings with global industry leaders, networking sessions, pitching competitions, strategic workshops and sector-specific programs for forging new collaborations. The Summit provided a forum to enhance economic opportunities to young entrepreneurs, especially women entrepreneurs and marginalized groups in the long run.

According to statement, the GES-2017 was held during 28-30 November, 2017 in Hyderabad. It was attended by more than 1500 registered delegates from 150 countries in addition to CEOs of MNCs, policy makers and Government officials.

A decision to host the Eighth Edition of the GES in 2017 in India was taken at the meeting between the Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi and the then US President Barack Obama on 7thJune, 2016 under the Joint Declaration. This was reiterated by the Prime Minister during his visit to the USA from 25-27 June 2017 and he invited Ms. Ivanka Trump, Adviser to the US President to lead the US delegation to the GES in India.

The GES is a pre-eminent forum for emerging entrepreneurs. The Summit provided opportunities for meeting with global industry leaders, networking of international entrepreneurs, innovators, investors. The summit also provided forum for pitching competition, strategic workshops and sector-programmes to help in creating new collaborations amongst entrepreneurs and Investors. The Summit provided for significantly increased economic opportunities for young entrepreneurs, especially, women entrepreneurs and start-ups.

» Govt to form committee to clear stalled port projects
» Govt extends mandatory jute packaging for foodgrains, sugar
» Cabinet gives ex-post facto nod to Indian position at WTO

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18. Islamic Alliance to Fight Terrorism ___

Saudi-led Islamic military alliance: counterterrorism or counter Iran?

A Saudi-formed Islamic counterterrorism alliance raises questions over whether it will work, what it will do and its ultimate goal. It appears to be aimed at Iran as much as at extremists.

Saudi Arabia’s powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on Sunday convened the first summit of the Islamic Military Counterterrorism Alliance, with top defense officials from some 40 Muslim countries attending.

Saudi Arabia announced the alliance in December 2015 to fight “terrorism,” singling out the “Islamic State” (IS) as a disease tarnishing the name of Islam.

In opening remarks in Riyadh on Sunday, Prince Mohammed said the alliance would “work together to support the military, financial, intelligence and political efforts of every member state” to battle terrorism and extremist ideology.

“The biggest danger of this terrorism and extremism is the tarnishing of the reputation of our beloved religion. … We will not allow this to happen,” he said.

The alliance initially had 34 members, but now includes 41 countries, according to the Saudi government. It has taken no action so far. From the beginning, it was unclear what the alliance would do or whether it would be able to wield any real power.

Now that IS has been largely defeated in Syria and Iraq, those questions remain, as does the question of the alliance’s goals. The Saudis insist it is a work in progress.

Saudi Arabia leading the fight against extremism?

The United States has long urged Saudi Arabia and other Muslim countries to take a more proactive role countering terrorism and extremist ideology.

For the young crown prince, who has consolidated control over the country, the alliance is a way to show himself as the Arab world’s leader at a time when the United States’ leadership in the region is in question.

“This alliance is a clear signal to the Arab-Islamic world that Saudi Arabia still wants to set the main agenda in regional policy and, of course, another instrument of containing Iran,” said Sebastian Sons, an associate fellow at the German Council of Foreign Relations.

Saudi Arabia is a member of the US-led coalition against IS, but its role has been marginal. It has instead become bogged down in a war in Yemen against Houthi rebels it says are backed by Iran. __________The Union Cabinet today approved India’s membership for European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), a move which will help it obtain funding in various areas including services and manufacturing.

Steps will be initiated by the Department of Economic Affairs to acquire the membership, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said after the Cabinet meeting.

The membership will increase the scope of cooperation between India and the multilateral institution through ..
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__20. Boosting Agri-Exports______________

: The government plans to come out with a policy to boost the exports of agricultural produce so that farmers get the best price and double their income by 2022.

“If they (farmers) produce something, they (should) get an access to global market and get better prices for that, and for that we will put in place a good policy framework very soon,” commerce minister Suresh Prabhu said at the 10th Agriculture Leadership Summit 2017 here today.

“We have the right to have access to global markets for our farm produce by removing all trade restrictive practices,” the minister added.

According to experts, the country’s agricultural sector has potential to double farm income and grow exports to $100 billion by 2022 from the present $34 billion.

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 ECONOMY_________________________

 

  1. Recapitalisation Plan for Banking Sector _

Reserve Bank of India (RBI) governor Urjit Patel said on Wednesday that the recapitalisation package for public sector banks will not only be linked to their capital requirements, but also on their reforms initiatives to ensure the funds are not used to sow the seeds of next “boom and bust cycle of lending”.

The central bank is working with the government to finalise the recapitalisation plan, which Patel termed as the “reform-and-recap package”.

The Department of Financial Services (DFS), a unit of the finance ministry, will soon release the details of the package, he added.

In October, finance minister Arun Jaitley had announced an unprecedented Rs2.11 trillion PSU bank recapitalisation plan to strengthen public sector banks. The plan includes recapitalisation bonds of Rs1.35 trillion.

Patel said the RBI is working with the government on the extent of funding to be raised by state-owned banks, and the amount of recapitalisation bonds to be placed on the banks’ balance sheets as the government’s equity contribution.

“recapitalisation bonds will be front-loaded for banks that have managed their balance sheet’s strength more prudently, and can use injected capital to lend besides providing for legacy asset losses,” Patel said in press briefing post the monetary policy meeting.

For other banks, the capital allocation will be based on their resolve and progress towards reform in a significant and time-bound manner. These include becoming “slim and trim” through simpler and better focussed business strategies, and also possibly the sale of non-core assets, Patel said.

According to analysts, the government will assign larger portion of the recapitalisation package to the stronger banks to push up the credit growth.

“Even as the government has shown its intent to help out banks with strong fundamentals, it is unlikely that it will leave out the weaker banks from the recapitalisation package completely. It is likely the government will assign larger portion of the recapitalisation package to the stronger banks, in order to drive up credit growth which is yet to show a sustainable improvement,” said Karthik Srinivasan, group head of financial sector ratings at Icra Ltd.

Public sector banks need capital to not only meet regulatory capital requirements under the Basel III norms but also for resolving stressed assets, which entails them to set aside funds in the form of provisions, and improve credit growth, according to analysts.

Currently, stressed loans in the banking system have risen over Rs10 trillion, while for October, the year-on year non-food credit growth was 6.6% as against 6.1% in September.

On 29 November, Press Trust of India, quoting officials in the know, had reported that the finance ministry is putting final touches to the recapitalisation bonds package and the DFS, in consultation with the RBI, has submitted proposals to the Department of Economic Affairs, which is working on the final structure.

2.      Ease of Doing Business: World Bank _____

·         From hunger to competitiveness: Where India ranked on key social, economic indices in 2017

·         On a majority of these indices, the country seems to have performed well, including the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business rankings in which India leapfrogged 30 positions.

·         The Global Entrepreneurship Network (GEN) is a platform for programmes and initiatives to help new firms start and scale while working to create a global entrepreneurial ecosystem

Over the last 12 months, there has been a lot of talk, both in India and abroad, of how much progress the country has made. The base for most of this talk was India’s performance on the various global indices that measure a country’s standing on social and economic fronts.

On a majority of these indices, the country seems to have performed well, including the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business rankings in which India leapfrogged 30 positions. That being said, it still has a long way to cover on some of the other indices.

Here’s a list of India’s performance in some of the major performance indices:

In the World Bank’s Ease of doing business rankings for 2018, India jumped 30 spots from its place last year and moved into the top 100 as the government came out with a slew of economic reforms.

India is also one of the 10 economies that improved the most in the areas measured by the World Bank, which ranks countries on business-friendliness, procedural ease, regulatory architecture and others.

> Global Entrepreneurship Index

India moved up one place to the 68th spot on the 2018 Global Entrepreneurship Index (GEI). The index featured 137 countries in all and the United States was ranked first on it.

The Global Entrepreneurship Network (GEN) is a platform for programmes and initiatives to help new firms start and scale while working to create a global entrepreneurial ecosystem. It ranks each country based on the GEI score, which indicates overall entrepreneurship attitude and potential.

> Human Development Index

While having performed decently on most of the financial indices, India’s performance on the Human Development Index wasn’t bad either, considering it improved its ranking by four spots.

The country is currently ranked 131 out of 188 countries on the HDI, thereby being classified in the ‘medium’ category, which is a significant improvement from the ‘low’ category India featured in back in the 1990s.

According to the HDI report, released by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), improvement in India’s ranking shows the progress made by the nation in terms of life expectancy and mean years of schooling over the last two and a half decades.

The report estimates India’s life expectancy at birth at 68.3 years, whereas mean schooling years stood at 6.3 years.

The HDI, devised and launched in 1990, is an index that ranks countries based on four metrics pertaining to human development — life expectancy, expected years of schooling, mean years of schooling, and per capita income.

A country requires high scores in all the three broad indices — life expectancy, education and income — to score a higher HDI.

> Global Competitiveness Index

In 2017, India slipped one place from last year’s rankings to be ranked the 40th most competitive economy on the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Index (GCI). The index was topped by Switzerland.

The Global Competitiveness Report, which ranks 137 economies across the world, stated that India’s score had improved across most pillars of competitiveness and the slip indicated that the Indian economy was stabilising from the big leap it took in the previous two years.

The GCI is prepared on the basis of national-level data from each country, covering 12 categories or pillars of competitiveness including institutions, infrastructure, macroeconomic environment, health and primary education, higher education and training, goods market efficiency, labour market efficiency, financial market development, technological readiness, market size, business sophistication and innovation.

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  1. Global Hunger Index

On the Global Hunger Index, India slipped three spots to rank 100 out of 119 countries, indicating a “serious” hunger problem, according to the 2017 International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) report.

According to the report, the country’s serious hunger level is driven by high levels of child malnutrition and underlines the need for stronger commitment to the social sector. However, even before the report came out, the Indian government had already launched the ‘undernourishment free India’ by 2022 campaign with a view of fighting malnutrition.

The plan shows stronger commitment and greater investments towards tackling malnutrition in the coming years, PK Joshi, IFPRI Director for South Asia, had said.

> Income Inequality

A number of studies were conducted in 2017 on income inequality across the globe, in which India recorded high levels of inequality with 55 percent of the country’s income being earned by only 10 percent of the population, according to the 2018 World Inequality report.

The report said that income inequality in the country had grown rapidly since the 1980s. In 1982, the share of the top one percent of our population in our national income was just 6.1 percent, but by 2013, this figure had increased to 21.7 percent.

Another study conducted by the World Inequality Lab stated that income inequality in India had reached historically high levels with the top 0.1 percent of the country’s earners increasing their total wealth by more than everyone in the bottom 50 percent combined.

The study also revealed that economic inequality is widespread in the country and has been growing substantially since the 1980s.

Renowned economists Lucas Chancel and Thomas Piketty have also claimed that India is currently seeing its highest income inequality since 1922 – the year the Income Tax Act was passed.

In their report titled, “Indian income inequality, 1922-2014, from British Raj to Billionaire Raj?”, they state that the top 1 percent of income earners contribute 22 percent of the total economy’s income as against the only 6 percent in the early 1980s period.

Income inequality is defined as the tax amount being paid by the top 1 percent of the highest income earners, or ‘billionaires’.

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4.National e-Governance Services Ltd (NeSL)

 

21 3.3. Information Utility ___________________ Last month, National e-Governance Services Ltd (NeSL) became India’s first information utility (IU) for bankruptcy cases under the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code 2016. NeSL is owned by State Bank of India and Life Insurance Corporation Ltd., among others. Recently, the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Board of India (IBBI) eased ownership norms for setting up such utilities.

What is an information utility?

Information utility is an information network which would store financial data like borrowings, default and security interests among others of firms. The utility would specialise in procuring, maintaining and providing/supplying financial information to businesses, financial institutions, adjudicating authority, insolvency professionals and other relevant stake holders.

Why is it important? How useful is it?

The objective behind information utilities is to provide high-quality, authenticated information about debts and defaults, as per the report of the Working Group on Information Utility published by the Ministry of Corporate Affairs. Information utilities are expected to play a key role as they allow storage of financial information of registered users and expeditiously process and verify information received. Moreover, the database and records maintained by them would help lenders in taking informed decisions about credit transactions. It would also make debtors cautious as credit information is available with the utility. More importantly, information available with the utility can be used as evidence in bankruptcy cases before the National Company Law Tribunal.

What are the rules governing these utilities?

Information utilities are governed by the Insolvency and Bankruptcy code 2016 and IBBI (Information Utilities) Regulations 2017. The Insolvency and Bankruptcy Board of India (IBBI) overseas aspects such as registration and cancellation of these entities, their shareholding and governance among others. Recently, IBBI eased norms for information utilities, allowing Indian firms listed on stock exchanges to hold 100% in such firms. It also allowed individuals to hold 51% in the utility for a period of three years.

How will the utilities help stakeholders in the insolvency process?

Corporate lawyer Anant Merathia explains: Financial creditors (banks which provide loans to the company): It is mandatory for financial creditors to provide financial information to the information utility. When they initiate insolvency proceedings against the defaulting firm (known as corporate debtor), the utilities may help as they would act as a centralised platform for accessing data.

Operational Creditor (Suppliers of goods and services to the firm in question): Unlike financial creditors, it is optional for the operational creditor to provide financial information to the utility. While the idea behind information utility is to have a financial data repository, it has to be seen to what extent firms provide data with regard to dues owed to operational creditors and how the utility is going to help the operational creditors during insolvency process.

What are the key challenges for these utilities?

While the onus is on financial creditors, operational creditors and corporate debtors to provide the required information, procuring authentic information might be a challenge due to the sensitivity involved. There may also, be resistance in sharing information. Since it is a digital database, there is the risk of exposure to data piracy and data theft.

 

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  1. 6. SEBI Panel on Corporate Governance ____

A Securities and Exchange board of India (Sebi)-appointed panel has proposed more powers for independent directors, limiting chairmanship to non-executive directors, and called for a greater focus on transparency and disclosures to improve corporate governance.

The panel submitted its report on Thursday. The capital markets regulator will take a call on implementation, and has invited public comments till 4 November. The recommendations span areas such as the composition of the board, the make-up of board committees, treatment of subsidiaries, information sharing with promoters and related-party transactions, audit evaluations, and conduct of annual general meetings.

Click here for enlarge

For instance, the panel recommended that a listed company should have at least six directors on its board. Current Sebi regulations do not mandate a minimum number. The panel has suggested at least one independent director be a woman.

It also proposed that directors attend at least half the total board meetings held in a financial year. If they fail to do so, they would require shareholders’ nod for continuing.

Companies have asked to make public the relevant skills of directors, and the age of non-executive directors has been capped at 75 years.

In addition, the chairperson of a listed company will be a non-executive director to ensure that s/he is independent of the management.

An independent director cannot be in more than eight listed companies and a managing director can hold the post of an independent director in only three listed companies.

“The committee is wide ranging and has covered issues pertaining to independent directors, auditors, and information flow to improve governance in listed companies. In the current scenario, the information was flowing through informal channels and in a regulatory vacuum. The committee has proposed formal information channels under regulatory purview,” said Cyril Shroff, managing partner of Cyril Amarchand Mangaldas, and a panel member.

Currently, boards are required to meet every quarter to discuss the financials of the company. The committee has proposed to increase the number of meetings to five a year.

The fifth meeting will discuss, among other things, whether the company has a succession plan in place, an issue that cropped up after the recent boardroom battles at the Tata group and Infosys Ltd.

Other issues to would be discussed in the proposed fifth meeting include adherence to governance standards, board evaluation and strategies for the company. Every board meeting would require the presence of an independent director.

The committee has recommended that the number of independent directors on a company board be increased from 33% to 50%.

The minimum sitting fees of independent directors has been halved from the current Rs1 lakh per meeting as stipulated by the Companies Act 2013 to Rs50,000 for the top 100 companies by market capitalization.

Detailed reasons would need to be furnished when an independent director resigns. This is to ensure that they remain independent of the company management.

“The committee has addressed the issues around independent directors and has specified a proper mechanism for sharing information between promoters and the company as not all sharing of information is illegitimate,” said S. Raman, a former whole time member of Sebi.

An audit committee is being proposed with the mandate to look into utilization of funds infused by a listed entity into unlisted subsidiaries, including foreign subsidiaries in cases where the total investment is at least Rs100 crore or 10% of the asset size of the subsidiary.

The committee has also recommended that Sebi should have clear powers to act against auditors under the securities law.

For government companies, the committee has recommended that the board have final say on the appointment of independent directors and not the nodal ministry.

The panel has also proposed to tweak the definition of a “material” subsidiary to one whose net worth or income exceeds 10% (currently 20%) of the consolidated income, or net worth of the listed entity. This has been done to improve disclosure, since only the activities of material subsidiaries are disclosed to shareholders.

“Implementation of this report will require fundamental changes on multiple fronts. Companies will now have to engage more proactively, as well as closely with their independent directors,” said Neeraj Gupta, partner and leader (Risk Assurance Services), PwC India.

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  1. 7. State of Commodity Dependency 2016: UNCTAD______________ Without policy change, commodity-dependent developing countries risk falling short of achieving their sustainabledevelopment goals (SDGs) by 2030, United Nations Conference on Trade and Development(Unctad) economic affairs officer Stefan Csordas warned on Monday.

Unctad and the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations have produced their third report in a series of biennial reports on themes and issues relevant to commodity dependent countries, with this year’s Commodities and Development Report 2017 focusing on the various linkages between the international commodity markets and economic growth and development. (Also watch attached Creamer Media video).

 

Speaking at the Industrial Development Corporation’s corporate office in Sandton, Csordas outlined how virtually all the countries of Africa were more than 60% dependent on primary commodities and that commodity dependence was on the increase worldwide.

He highlighted how volatility on international commodity markets unsettled growth and how price collapse created far-reaching growth and development disruption.

 

 

While at the macro level the fall of government revenues undermined fiscal balance and threatened the continuity of public developmental programmes, at the micro level the drop in the purchasing power of the most vulnerable segments of the population threatened their food security.

“It seems that commodity prices are not going to be increasing by much by 2030. The only exception is crude oil,” Csordas

Against the backdrop of commodity prices remaining relatively low, it was critically important for commodity countries to mitigate the risks associated with commodity dependence.

Among the many case studies on how countries have used or abused their resources is the stark contrast of the way Botswana made its diamond industry drive development and how Sierra Leone did the exact the opposite – and also how inequality increased in Zambia despite copper prices hitting their highest-ever levels.

Csordas emphasised the importance of inclusive growth and pointed to the example of Zambia’s copper boom doing nothing to reduce inequality and poverty.

It was absolutely essential for commodity countries to have resilient economies, which meant saving during commodity price windfalls and using that money to maintain development programmes throughout the periods of low commodity jolts.

It was also essential for economies to diversify horizontally and vertically, add value, expand linkages between the commodity sector and the national economy and invest in social protection, health and education.

As for good governance, that is a basic prerequisite for any country wanting the private sector investment.

Ultimately, the Unctad report said, structural transformation could come about through the successful implementation of the 2030 Agenda of Sustainable Development, of which the SDGs are the core.

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8. Edible Oil Import Govt raises import tax on edible oils to highest in a decade

Govt raises import tax on crude palm oil to 30%, while the duty on refined palm oil has been raised to 40% from 25% earlier as it tries to support local farmers

 

India has raised import tax on edible oil to the highest level in more than a decade, the government said in an order, as the world’s biggest importer of edible oils tries to support its farmers.

The duty increase will lift oilseed prices and their availability for crushing in the domestic market, helping the country in capping edible oil imports in the 2017/18 marketing year, which started on 1 November.

India doubled the import tax on crude palm oil to 30%, while the duty on refined palm oil has been raised to 40% from 25% earlier, the government said in its order, issued late on Friday.

The import tax on crude soyoil was increased to 30% from 17.5%, while on refined soyoil it was raised to 35% from 20%, it said.

Reuters exclusively reported about a government duty increase proposal this month.

Indian oilseed crushers were struggling to compete with cheap imports from Indonesia, Malaysia, Brazil and Argentina, reducing demand for local rapeseed and soybeans, even after steep fall in oilseed prices.

The second increase in import tax in less than three months will push up domestic edible oil prices and support prices of local oilseeds like soybean and rapeseed, said B.V. Mehta, executive director of the Solvent Extractors’ Association (SEA), a Mumbai-based trade body.

Soybean and rapeseed prices have been trading below the government-set price level in physical market, angering farmers.

India relies on imports for 70% of its edible oil consumption, up from 44% in 2001/02.

Even after the duty increase, India will need to import about 15.5 million tonnes of edible oils in 2017/18, down from earlier estimate of 15.9 million tonnes, but higher than last year’s 15 million tonnes, said Sandeep Bajoria, chief executive of the Sunvin group, a vegetable oil importer.

“The duty hike will have marginal impact on imports. India has to import due to huge demand,” Bajoria said.

The government also raised import duty on soybeans, canola oil and sunflower oil

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9. Boosting Silk Production — To increase silk production Govt has pumped Rs 690 crore: CSB

To counter China s growing silk production, the Government of India has pumped in Rs 690 crore in 24 districts in the North East region, Central Silk Board (CSB) chairman K M Hanumantharayappa said today.

“Under North East Region Textile Promotion Scheme (NERTPS), 24 projects worth Rs 690 crore is being implemented in NE states and of these, six are in Assam, one in Sikkim, two each in Meghalaya and Manipur and the rest in other states,” Hanumantharayappa told on his one day visit to the state.

He said the scheme is being implemented under two broad categories – the Integrated Sericulture Development Project (ISDP) and the Intensive Bivoltine Sericulture Development Project [IBSDP] covering Mulberry, Eri and Muga.

The scheme is aimed at a holistic development of sericulture in all its spheres from plantation development to production of fabrics with value addition at every stage of production chain.

“All four commercially exploited varieties of silk mulberry, muga, eri and tasar are produced in the North-east and this region contributes about 21 per cent of the total silk production in the country,” he said.

The Silk Board chairman also informed that the government has big plans as far as promotion of silk farming is concerned to meet the domestic demand and also at the same time to counter China s Silk production.

He also lauded the eri production which has reached 3,600 tonne in 2016-17 even as muga production was 141 tonne and production of mulberry silk stood at 45 tonne this year.

In Meghalaya, the Centre has funded a pilot mulberry project for three years worth Rs 29 crore at Thadlaskein in West Jaintia Hills district and also at the government farm at Laban.

The mulberry farms in Meghalaya are almost a 100 year old, first set up by the British in 1925 but their growth story after Independence is negligible and is a dying art at present.

Taking a cue from what the British did, the Centre has identified three districts in Meghalaya and an intensive awareness campaign will be launched to help draw back silkworm farmers to the trade.

“Before we started silk board, British had identified Shillong as a centre for rearing silkworms. We are implementing a Rs 29 crore 3 year n-to-n project in Mulbery production wherein nursery, land development, plantation, rearing tools, rearing house, irrigation for plantation, cocoon, product development, marketing and training for farmers,” he said.

The Integrated project for Eri, Mulbery and Muga is in West Jaintia Hills district, Williamnagar in East Garo Hills and Trikkikilla in West Garo Hills district, the Central Silk Board, chairman added. JOP RG KKB

 

 

  1. Bharatmala Project _________________

Modi govt approves mega Rs 7-lakh crore project to develop 83,000 km highways in 5 years
The government on Tuesday approved the biggest highway construction plan so far in the country, to develop approximately 83,677 km of roads at an investment of Rs 6.92 lakh crore by 2022. The highway construction programme is aimed at pushing economic activity and generating at least 14.2 crore man-days across the country over the next five years.

The programme includes the Bharatmala scheme, under which 34,800 km of highways would be constructed at the cost of Rs 5.35 lakh crore ..

11.  Hydropower Generation in India Challenges and Prospects ______________

12.  Hydro Power Potential of Northeast India and it’s Development

13.  China’s Water Diversion Is Not Responsible For Brahmaputra River

14. Kashmir: Pakistan and India race for Himalayan hydro power

 

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15.

SRISTI — SRISTI is a developmental voluntary organization aiming to  strengthen the creativity of/at/for grassroots communities ,including individual innovators. It supports eco-friendly solutions to local problems being scouted, spawned and spread by the Honey Bee Network for over 26 years. It also nurtures ecopreneurs engaged in conserving biodiversity, common property resources, cultural diversity and educational innovators. There are five pillars of Honey Bee Network which SRISTI is committed to backstop: Educational innovations by school and college teachers, students and other stakeholders; institutional innovations at community and other levels in managing resources, improving access of knowledge  rich-economically poor people to trigger self reliant development process; cultural creativity so that curiosity, collaboration, and compassion growth through art, literature and crafts etc., Technological innovations and traditional knowledge dealing with  human, animal, plant and ecosystem health, and policy reforms to generate frugal innovations for sustainable development at all levels, with specific reference to youth, children, women and elderly. You may read about various activities and social movement pursued to empower the creative and compassionate people, get involved in the movement, download honey Bee newsletter,  research papers and be a Bee, volunteer, contribute, and own up the only sky we have to share.

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  1. Ro-Ro Ferry Service Launched

‎Ro-Ro ferry is a small part of Sagarmala project of Central Government that aims to promote port-led development in the country harnessing India’s 7,500-km long coastline, 14,500-km of potentially navigable waterways and strategic location on key international maritime trade routes…

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  1. Sampoorna Bima Gram Yojana _Rural people to get affordable life insurance services-Manoj Sinha 

The Minister for Communications Shri Manoj Sinha today launched the Sampoorna Bima Gram (SBG) Yojana and an initiative for expansion of clientele base of Postal Life Insurance.  Talking to media after launching the schemes here, the Minister said that the vision of the Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi to provide banking services through the postal network needs to be taken forward to provide affordable life insurance services to people living in rural areas of the country. He said that all villages under the Saansad Adarsh Gram Yojana will be brought under its ambit.

The Minister said, under Sampoorna Bima Gram (SBG) Yojana, at least one village (having a minimum of 100 households) will be identified in each of the revenue districts of the country, wherein endeavour will be made to cover all households of that identified village with a minimum of one RPLI (Rural Postal Life Insurance) policy each.  Coverage of all households in the identified Sampoorna Bima Gram village is the primary objective of this scheme.

Shri Sinha said, under the scheme expansion of clientele base of PLI, it has now been decided that benefits of PLI will no more be confined to Government and semi-Government employees, but will also be available to professionals such as Doctors, Engineers, Management Consultants, Charted Accountants, Architects, Lawyers, Bankers etc. and to employees of listed companies of NSE (National Stock Exchange) and BSE (Bombay Stock Exchange).  The decision has been taken to enlarge the cover of social security and bring maximum number of people under the protection of Postal Life Insurance (PLI). He said that the postal policies have low premium and high bonus, unlike the Private ones.

The Minister added that the Government is committed to the cause of complete wellbeing of citizens of this country.  Expansion of clientele base of Postal Life Insurance (PLI) and ensuring coverage of Rural Postal Life Insurance (RPLI) to all households of Sampoorna Bima Gram villages in each district of the country is a step in that direction. These two major initiatives being undertaken by Department of Posts will serve as an instrument of securing lives of people as well as enhancing financial inclusion.

Postal Life Insurance (PLI), introduced in 1884, is one of the oldest life insurance schemes for benefit of Government and semi-Government employees.  Rural Postal Life Insurance (RPLI), introduced on March 24, 1995 on recommendations of Malhotra Committee, provides insurance cover to people residing in rural areas, especially weaker sections and women living in rural areas. Low Premium and High Bonus is the unique feature of PLI and RPLI schemes.  As on March 31, 2017, there were 46.8 lakh PLI and 146.8 lakh RPLI policies across the country.

The insurance industry in India has undergone transformational changes after liberalisation of the insurance sector in the year 2000, subsequent to setting up of the insurance regulator Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority of India (IRDAI).  In such a competitive scenario, it is felt that there is an urgent need for Postal Life Insurance (PLI) / Rural Postal Life Insurance (RPLI) to redefine itself.

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  1. Panel on Market Infrastructure Institutions — Regulator Sebitoday reorganised its committee on market infrastructure institutions that advises it on reviewing norms pertaining to stock exchanges, clearing corporations and depository participants.

The five member committee is chaired by R Gandhi, former Deputy Governor at Reserve Bank of India (RBI), according to latest update with Securities and Exchange Board of India (Sebi).

Other members are UTI AMC Managing Director Leo Puri; Gopal Naik, Dean, faculty at Indian Institute of Management Bangalore; G Anantharaman, former whole time member Sebi; and S Ravindran executive director at Sebi.

One of the major terms of reference of this committee is overall assessment of the existing MIIs’ framework and identify areas for review in the SECC (Stock Exchanges and Clearing Corporations) norms and depository participants regulations.

The committee is mandated to review regulations pertaining to Market Infrastructure Institutions (MIIs) and identify areas for continuous improvement of systems, procedures and practices and make recommendations thereof.

The panel would also be responsible for addressing suggestions received from public under the consultation process.

The board of Sebi in December 2009 had constituted a committee under the Chairmanship of Bimal Jalan, former RBI Governor, to examine issues arising from the ownership and governance of market infrastructure institutions.

Earlier in February this year, Sebi had issued a consultation paper to review the norms governing stock exchanges, clearing corporations and depositories in view of changing market dynamics. It had sought comments from public till March 31 in this regard. SP SBT

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19.. Bharat Net Project __________________ The government will on Monday start its second and final phase of BharatNet project with an outlay of around Rs 34,000 crore to provide high-speed broadband in all panchayats by March 2019, telecom secretary Aruna Sundararajan said on Sunday.

Under the project, the government aims to connect 1.5 lakh panchayats through 10 lakh kilometres of additional optical fibre and give bandwidth to telecom players at nearly 75% cheaper price for broadband and Wi-Fi services in rural areas.

“We will tomorrow (Monday) launch phase 2 of BharatNet to connect 1.5 lakh gram panchayats with high-speed broadband by March 2019. Phase 1 of the project, under which 1 lakh GPs were to be connected, will be completed by the end of this year. We expect telecom operators to provide at least 2 megabit per second speed to rural households,” Sundararajan said.

Telecom minister Manoj Sinha, law and IT minister Ravi Shankar Prasad and human resource development minister Prakash Javadekar will launch the project on Monday.
The telecom ministry will sign agreements with seven states Maharashtra, Gujarat, Chhattisgarh, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Tamil Nadu and Jharkhand which will roll out the project on their own with partial funding from the central government.
“The total project cost of BharatNet is around Rs 45,000 crore, of which Rs 11,200 crore have been used for the first phase. After rural exchange rollout in the country when telecom services started, this is the biggest project involving domestically manufactured products for the entire project,” Sundararajan said.
She said around Rs 4.5 lakh crore value can be added to the national gross domestic product on completion of BharatNet phase 2 as a study has suggested that every 10% usage of Internet in India drives up GDP by 3.3%.

 

  1. The government estimates that the second phase of BharatNet will double the existing optical fibre footprint in the country and generate employment of 10 crore mandays during the rollout of the project.

 

 

 

  1. Gold Options on Multi Commodity Exchange ______________________________

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  1. Price Capping of Medical Devices

In a move that could bring relief to the medical device industry that’s been hit hard by price caps this year, the government may look at the middle ground of imposing a cap on the distributor and retailer margins.

The Department of Pharmaceuticals (DoP) has asked medical device associations, healthcare industry bodies and relevant regulatory agencies to help it categorise the devices. The DoP secretary will hold a meeting on October 25 to fix trade margins, according to a letter ..

 

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  1. Linking Bank Lending Rates to External Benchmark___

committee set up by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) on Wednesday recommended linking bank lending rates to a market benchmark, in a bid to hasten monetary policy transmission as well improve transparency in rate setting by lenders.

The panel—headed by Janak Raj, principal adviser, monetary policy department—recommended that all floating rate loans advanced from April could be referenced to one of three external benchmarks.

The panel has suggested a risk-free curve involving rates on treasury bills, or certificate of deposits rates or the central bank’s policy repo rate.

RBI will take a final view on suggestions of the panel after taking into account public feedback received until 25 October.

The panel pulled up banks for “arbitrariness” in calculating the base rate and marginal cost of funds-linked lending rates (MCLR), two existing benchmarks to which retail lending rates such as car loan and home loan rates are fixed. The spreads charged over these internal benchmarks “has undermined the integrity of the interest rate setting process”, it said.

The panel suggested that lending rates should be reset once every quarter, from the current practice of once a year.

23 . Peer to Peer (P2P) Lending ___________ What is ‘Peer-To-Peer Lending (P2P)’

Peer-to-peer (P2P) lending is a method of debt financing that enables individuals to borrow and lend money without the use of an official financial institution as an intermediary. Peer-to-peer lending removes the middleman from the process, but it also involves more time, effort and risk than the general brick-and-mortar lending scenarios.

P2P lending is also known as social lending or crowdlending.

BREAKING DOWN ‘Peer-To-Peer Lending (P2P)’

Traditionally, individuals and small businesses who want a loan usually apply for one through the bank. The bank would run extensive financial checks on the applicant’s credit history to determine if the entity would qualify for a loan and if yes, determines the interest rate that will be charged on the loan. Individuals that want to avoid being charged high interest rates or that would otherwise be rejected for a loan application due to poor credit history, may opt for an alternative way of borrowing funds – peer-to-peer lending.

With peer-to-peer lending, borrowers take loans from individual investors who are willing to lend their own money for an agreed interest rate. The profile of a borrower is usually displayed on a peer-to-peer online platform where investors can assess these profiles to determine whether they would want to risk lending money to a borrower. A borrower might receive the full loan amount or only a portion of what he asked for from an investor. In the case of the latter, the remaining portion of the loan may be funded by one or more investors in the peer lending marketplace. In peer-to-peer lending, a loan may have multiple sources and monthly repayment has to be made to each of the individual sources.

P2P platforms connect borrowers to investors with attractive interest rates. For lenders, the loans generate income in the form of interest which can often exceed the interest amount that can be earned through savings vehicles, such as saving accounts and CDs. In addition, an investor is able to earn a higher return on his investment than he can get from the stock market through the interest payments he receives monthly from the borrower. On the other hand, P2P loans give borrowers access to financing that they may not have gotten approval for from standard financial intermediaries. Furthermore, a borrower gets a more favorable interest rate on her loan than one she would otherwise have gotten from a bank.

Securing P2P Loans

Peer-to-peer lending is a form of crowdfunding that offers personal unsecured loans to individuals and small businesses looking to take out student loans, commercial and real estate loans, payday loans, etc. Lenders that prefer secured loans will usually take as collateral, luxury assets such as watches, jewelry, and fine art. However, as with traditional lending contracts, it is possible that a borrower may default on a loan. Since investment in a peer loan is not secured by any government guarantee, lenders have the option of choosing who to give funds to and have the advantage of diversifying their available funds among different borrowers.

Peer-to-peer intermediaries are for-profit companies that provide the platform which pairs borrowers and individual lenders. Individuals and businesses that need funding for personal or commercial projects need to file an application with these intermediaries which will assess their credit risk, determine a credit rating, and apply an interest rate to their profiles. The monthly repayments are also made through the P2P intermediary which processes and forwards the payments to the lenders who invested in the loan.

Lending Club, the world’s largest P2P lending platform as of 2017, offers loans in the range of $1,000 to $35,000 to individuals, and $15,000 to $350,000 to businesses over fixed periods of 36 or 60 months. The interest rate charged for borrowed funds falls between 5.32% and 30.99%, depending on the loan grade or creditworthiness of the borrowing entity. Lending Club charges investors a fee equal to 1% of the amount of borrower payments received within 15 days of the due date of the loan. The borrower pays an origination fee that ranges from 1% to 5%, depending on the credit grade that the company assigns to him or her. Payments that bounce back are charged $15, and borrowers that are more than 15 days late on their scheduled payments are charged either 5% or $15, whichever is greater.

Because each state has its own regulations with regard to lending, peer-to-peer lending is not allowed everywhere. For example, Iowa, North Carolina, and New Mexico have constrained the ability to invest through peer-to-peer platforms. Investors and borrowers should, therefore, ensure to check whether their states permit P2P lending before registering with a P2P intermediary.

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24. Land Bank for Industrial Allocation _____ Conflicts across India as states create land banks for industry, investment

Up to 2.68 mn hectares of land have been set aside in land banks in the eight states

Bhasker Tripathi | IndiaSpend Last Updated at September 19, 2017 10:19 IST

 

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Tough task ahead for Odisha govt to take possession of Posco landLand acquisition act has made urban land costly: NITI AayogOdisha mulls direct land-buy model to cut acquisition time, boost industryWhy land ceilings hurt corporate investmentLand can be a multi-bagger investment

In June this year, about a hundred people from Nuagaon village near India’s east coast marched towards a wall that the Odisha government is building around a 1,700 hectare piece of land on the village’s periphery. The wall would mark the inclusion of the land–1,253 hectares of which is forest land and is under dispute–in the state government’s land bank, thereby restricting locals’ access to an area where they have traditionally harvested betel leaves, rice and fish.

Faced with heavy police deployment, the villagers turned back to consider a change of strategy. In 2011, they had successfully fought off South Korean steel giant POSCO’s plan to set up a steel plant on the same piece of land. No sooner had POSCO announced in March 2017 that it would return the land to the state government than the government announced it would put the land into a land bank–not return it to the villagers.

When the government began to wall off the contested land in May 2017, the simmering discontent erupted.

The face-off in Nuagaon village finds echoes in land conflicts brewing across the country. State governments are rushing to build land banks, using both private and common lands, in an effort to attract investment in manufacturing and infrastructure. Up to 2.68 million hectares of land–an area larger than the state of Meghalaya–have been set aside in land banks in the eight states that declare these statistics, data from state government websites show.

These are: Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu and Uttar Pradesh.

In several cases, this has been done at the cost of people’s rights: Delhi-based data journalism initiative Land Conflict Watch has documented four recent cases including Nuagaon that together involve more than 3,550 hectares of land and affect 258,000 people–more than the population of Nagaland. These conflicts have arisen because state governments have banked land that was allotted for industrial and infrastructure projects that were shelved due to local opposition. Instead of resolving the conflict, the states just locked the land away.

 

Recent Land Conflicts

 

Conflict District State Families Affected Area Affected (hectares)
Odisha Govt. has put forest land in their land bank which earlier belonged to the POSCO project Jagatsinghpur Odisha 700 1200
Chhatisgarh govt. has locked away a chunk of land which was acquired from people to build a steel plant Bastar Chattisgarh 2000 1700
Jharkhand govt. has sealed a chunk of forest land – where a firing range of India army was proposed – in their land bank Latehar Jharkhand 50000 32
Jharkhand govt. has earmarked gram sabha’s common land in their land bank. This land was a part of Koel-Karo dam project, which could not come up due to people’s protest Khunti Jharkhand 100 61

Source: Land Conflict Watch

 

Land rights activists say the idea of land banks is problematic in itself. “They steal land from villages and reverse long-needed land reforms,” Aseem Shrivastava, a Delhi-based ecological economist who co-authored Churning The Earth: The Making Of Global India, told IndiaSpend. And recent conflicts show that state governments’ methods of creating land banks have been questionable.

Why land banks

State governments began to “bank” land in the 1990s, particularly in the post-liberalisationperiod, Michael Levien, professor of sociology at Johns Hopkins University in the US, and author of the forthcoming Dispossession After Development: Land Grabs in Neoliberal India, told IndiaSpend in an email.

“From the point of view of the government, building land banks allows them to offer land to private investors right away, rather than having to wait for the lengthy process of land acquisition each time an investor wants land,” he said. “Investors also like to know that the land is acquired and available, and that they won’t run into political problems down the road.”

Making land readily available for economic activities sounds like a rational move. Scratch the surface, however, and a different picture emerges–of conflict, and denial of people’s rights.

 

Source: State government websites
Note:NA= Not Available in Public Domain

 

Banking disputed landthe case of Nuagaon

When POSCO signed an agreement with the Odisha government to set up a steel plant in Nuagaon and nearby villages in 2005, the 700 families affected were not enthused.

Mostly Dalits or Santhal tribals, the villagers wanted to continue to earn their livelihood from the forest, and did not believe that jobs or other compensation promised to them would improve their lives. A decade-long resistance including legal challenges followed, at the end of which POSCO shelved the project in 2015.

In March this year, POSCO offered to return the land to the state government.

The villagers rejoiced, but were soon faced with another claimant–the state government, which quickly moved to add this land to a land bank it has been building since 2007. The Industrial Development Corporation of Odisha (IDCO) started to wall off the 1,700 hectares near Nuagaon in late May. The wall will eventually fence off the nearby Dhinkia and Gobindpur villages too.

Most of these families have farmed beetle leaves for generations, which they sell to earn a livelihood. They have no other employable skills.

Over generations, the locals have developed a deep bond with the land and the forest, beyond merely as a source of employment and their only possession, Prashant Paikray, an activist who worked closely with families here during their fight against POSCO, told IndiaSpend, adding that it is often this attachment that fuels their fierce resistance to industrial projects.

The encounter with the police made Nuagaon residents take legal recourse. In July 2017, they filed a petition with the Kolkata bench of the National Green Tribunal.

“Odisha government cannot put this forest land into the land bank,” their counsel Ritwick Dutta told IndiaSpend, explaining that according to the Forest Conservation Act of 1980, the government is required to get forest ‘clearance’ or approval from the central environment ministry to use forest land for a non-forest purpose. However, there is no provision to obtain forest clearance for a ‘land bank’ under the Act, Dutta said.

The petition adds that under the Forest Rights Act of 2006, the government cannot change the use of forest land without recognising the land and forest rights of people living or dependent on it since generations.

The residents of Nuagaon, Dhinkia and Gobindpur villages have submitted applications to the state government to claim their land and forest rights, but these have gone unaddressed since 2011. “The government is violating Forest Rights Act by preventing communities’ access to their forest,” Shankar Pani, an independent lawyer based in Odisha, told IndiaSpend.

The state government counters that the land had already been diverted for a non-forest purpose and was being held by the Industrial Development Corporation of India. “[T]here is no question of settling forest rights now,” Debi Prasad, the former industries minister with the Odisha government who put the disputed 1,253 hectares into the land bank, told IndiaSpend.

Dutta argues that the Odisha government never issued a final order diverting this forest land for non-forest purpose, as state governments are required to do after the central environment ministry issues a ‘clearance.’

Conflict everywhere

Odisha’s land bank now comprises about 40,000 hectares. Most Indian states either already have sizeable land banks or are in the process of creating them–largely for industrial or infrastructure development–although only eight make details publicly available (See table 1).

Conflict arises when industrial or infrastructure projects are proposed on land that communities inhabit, earn livelihood from, or have customary rights over. Over 200 million Indians depend on forestland for basic living needs, while 118.9 million Indians practisefarming on 160 million hectares of land.

Land Conflict Watch has reported over 450 land conflicts so far, affecting more than 6 million people directly or indirectly. These include conflicts due to land acquisition by the state, violation of community rights over land, and opposition to industries such as mining and power generation and to infrastructure projects.

Often, communities do not want to part with their land, or their demands for compensation and rehabilitation are not adequately met. In some cases, the projects are shelved or cancelled and state governments take over the land.

“When [investment] proposals do not get fulfilled either due to lack of finance, on ground conflicts, regulatory failures or a combination of these, governments allocated the acquired land into land banks instead of repatriating it,” Kanchi Kohli, legal research director with the environment justice programme of Namati, a Washington DC-based global network of lawyers, told IndiaSpend.

Jharkhand’s clandestine move

Like Nuagaon in Odisha, a movement against land banks is building up in the Torpa block of Khunti district in Jharkhand. Members of gram sabhas (village councils) are holding meetings where they bring villagers’ land records to match with the land bank data available on the state revenue department’s website to check if the government has surreptitiously put any village common land into its land bank. Common lands are broadly understood as lands shared by all residents of a village and include grazing land, ponds and forests.

Their suspicion comes from the experience of Lohajimi, a village in Torpa, whose residents learnt in February this year that the state government had put about 60 hectares of their common land into its land bank. “The government didn’t even consult the gram sabha. This is a violation of PESA [Panchayat Extension to Scheduled Areas Act],” Rejan Gudia, a local activist from Lohajimi, told IndiaSpend.

PESA empowers village councils of scheduled areas–places primarily inhabited by tribespeople–to approve, reject or change the government programmes proposed in their regions. Khunti is a scheduled area.

So far, Jharkhand has banked about 40,468 hectares of land, 10% of which is in Khunti district’s Torpa block. Numerous calls and emails to Jharkhand government officials to ask under what provision Lohajimi’s land was put into a land bank went unanswered.

Lohajimi had previously been the epicentre of a three-decade movement that began in 1973 against the 700 megawatt Koel-Karo Dam proposed by the Bihar government (Jharkhand was then a part of Bihar). Lohajimi was one of the 132 villages that the dam would submerge.

Eight people died here in 2001 when police opened fire during a related protest. The government withdrew the project in 2003, and residents observe February 2 as Martyrdom Day every year. “The 60 hectares of land from Lohajimi that the government has banked was the part of the land where the dam was proposed,” Gudia said.

“Now the government is using land banks as another tool to acquire the same land,” another activist who did not want to be named told IndiaSpend.

Old v. new law in Chhattisgarh

In addition to common lands, land banks have violated laws protecting private land too, particularly in cases where land from cancelled projects has been diverted into land banks.

One such example is from Lohandiguda region in Chhattisgarh’s Bastar district. In 2007, the Chhattisgarh government acquired 1,765 hectares of land from some 2,000 families, mostly farmers, living in 10 villages in Lohandiguda. The land was acquired for Tata Steel to set up a steel plant.

Villagers alleged some of this land was acquired forcefully, and continuing opposition forced Tata Steel to withdraw in August 2016, blaming a breakdown of law and order in the region.

A few days later, the Chhattisgarh State Industrial Development Corporation (CSIDC) added this land to its land bank, swelling the reserve to 5,665 hectares. “The land is with the corporation. Papers are being prepared [to bank the land],” confirmed Alok Trivedi, General Manager of the Land Allotment and Land Bank Division in CSIDC.

Sudiep Srivastava, an activist-lawyer who splits his time between Chhattisgarh and Delhi, told IndiaSpend that legally, the Chhattisgarh government cannot include the land acquired for Tata Steel in its land bank until the government has re-acquired it from the people. Srivastava has filed a petition in the Chhattisgarh High Court demanding that land acquisition be quashed and the land returned to the people.

Srivastava explained that according to the Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act (LARRA) of 2013, acquisition lapses if land was acquired under the older 1894 statute and the acquired land is unutilised for more than five years. The government can set up a new project on the same land but it must reacquire it from the people by following the provisions of the new land acquisition law. These provisions include conducting public hearings and obtaining affected persons’ consent.

For one decade, when it was unclear whether the Tata Steel project would go through, Lohandiguda farmers were in a limbo. None got the jobs they were promised; most were not rehabilitated; and although many families continued to live on the contested land, they could not sell their crops to cooperative societies or avail of farmer benefit programmesbecause the land was no longer in their name.

The situation got some political attention in August 2017 when Rahul Gandhi, vice-president of the Indian National Congress, during a tour of Bastar, accused the Chhattisgarh government of lying to the people.

New Indian law

The new land acquisition law gives land banks a freer hand. If land acquired under this law is unutilised for more than five years, the state government can put it in its land bank or give it back to the people it was acquired from.

The latter part has an interesting history. An analysis by Policy Research Studies, a research group for members of parliament, shows that the first draft of the LARRA Act prepared in 2011 had no option of returning unutilised land to the people, and allowed state governments to bank it instead.

That faced strident opposition from activist bodies including the National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM). “Our joint effort forced the government to add that the land could go back to people also,” Madhuresh Kumar, national convener of NAPM, told IndiaSpend, adding, “At least it provides legal backing to land losers who want to claim their unutilised land.”

Under the new law, if a state government acquires land for “public purpose”, which includes defence projects and housing for the poor, it does not need the consent of those who will lose their land. In contrast, the consent of 80% of the land owners affected is required for private projects and of 70% if the project is a public-private partnership.

The law does not prevent the government from acquiring land for a “public purpose” and later handing it over to a private player. “This would be a way to entirely circumvent the greater procedural requirements for private and public-private-partnership projects under LARRA,” Levien added.

Indeed, state governments are “breaking all kinds of laws” in order to acquire land to give it to industry or to put it in land banks, NC Saxena, a former bureaucrat who headed various committees on land rights, told IndiaSpend.

Saxena said keeping land fallow for long durations is a bad idea. “But land banks become a necessity because the current land laws are complex with lengthy land acquisition processes that the governments do not want to get stuck,” he said.

The new land acquisition law was supposed to resolve at least some of this complexity and shorten the procedures, but, as Saxena said, those goals have not been met and violations abound.

Shrivastava, the ecological economist, said each case of transfer into land banks should be investigated. “There is not even a single good study of this phenomenon by our social scientists,” he said, adding that investigation would undoubtedly unearth more scams.

Christopher Udry, a professor of economics at Yale University, says land banks should be created in such a way that they benefit landowners. Since 1981, he has studied rural economics and land rights in Ghana, a West African country the size of Uttar Pradesh, where 80% of the land is held by customary land owners, mainly families, clans and traditional authorities.

Udry proposes building land banks on the lines of traditional banks where people deposit their money–people could deposit their land and earn from it. “One can think of this as interest on the deposit,” Udry told IndiaSpend in an email. The managers of these land banks would let out the deposited land for commercial or development activities. “Payments could be structured in such a way that those willing to commit to longer terms receive higher payments,” Udry said, adding that the tenure of the deposit would be decided locally.

Experts would differ over whether this would work in India.

Meanwhile, the wall is fast approaching the Dhinkia and Gobindpur villages in Odisha, and communities are gearing up for a new battle.

 

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  1. Project Chaman . ___________ The nature of horticulture crops is such that it is not easy to make assessment of their production. These crops, especially vegetables are grown in small plots, fields or in the back of the houses, do not have single harvesting in most of the cases which makes their assessment difficult. Many horticulture crops have multiple pickings in a single season. Similarly many fruit trees are scattered, which do not count for assessment.In view of above difficulties several research studies were taken up by agricultural scientists in the past. Recently Department of Agriculture, Cooperation & Farmers Welfare has launched a new project called CHAMAN. Under this project sound methodology for estimation of Horticulture crops is being developed and implemented on pilot basis using Sample Survey methodology and Remote Sensing technology.Indian Agricultural Statistics Research Institute (IASRI) has developed a Sample Survey methodology which is now being implemented on pilot basis in 5 states for estimation of area & production in respect of major horticulture crops under the project CHAMAN.

    Simultaneously under CHAMAN, another project for area and production assessment of seven major horticulture crops through Remote Sensing, is being carried out by Mahalanobis National Crop Forecast Centre (MNCFC). Besides estimation of crops, MNCFC is carrying out several developmental studies and is also conducting some research studies for precision farming and developing signatures for horticulture crops like vegetables, being grown in smaller plots, for their assessment.

    This information was given by the Minister of State for Agriculture & Farmers Welfare Shri Parshottam Rupala in Lok Sabha today.  _________

 

 

 

  1. Nobel Prize in Economics_____________ A Nobel Prize for a Behavioral Economics Pioneer: Are there Lessons for (Utility) Regulation?

Richard Thaler has won the Nobel Prize in Economics, by undermining the “rational actor” assumption central to economics.  He proved that humans’ economic decisions are afflicted by systematic biases. His discoveries have direct application to utility regulation.

Less interested in economists’ formulas than in humans’ quirks, a young Thaler began keeping “The List”:  examples of decisions—including economists’ decisions—that were economically irrational.  Then, inspired by the groundbreaking work of psychologists Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman, Thaler spent decades proving that people have consistent, predictable biases that distort decision-making.  Thaler describes his work superbly in Misbehaving:  The Making of Behavioral Economics (2015).  The book is both autobiography and economic history, because Thaler’s career made economic history.

Thaler also wrote, with Cass Sunstein, the great book Nudge:  Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness (2008), whose applications to utility regulation I discussed in a prior essay.   Kahneman himself won the Economics Nobel in 2002, a prize Tversky would have shared had he lived.  Kahneman detailed his discoveries in his masterpiece, Thinking Fast and Slow (2011); the entire subject was recently retold for popular readership by Michael Lewis in The Undoing Project:  A Friendship that Changed Our Minds (2017).

Reading these four books causes one to ask:  Might the biases discovered by these intellectual eminences affect utility regulation?  (I use “bias” not in the conventional sense of having a closed mind, or a predisposition to favor one side of a debate, but rather in the Thalerian sense of having a propensity to make decisions based on irrelevant factors.)   Among the many bias-types discovered by Kahneman, Tversky and Thaler, consider these three.

Anchoring:  Are decisions affected by irrelevancies?  Experimenters rigged a wheel of fortune so that it always stopped on 10 or 65.  Two separate groups of students were told to watch the wheel spin, write down the resulting number; then guess the percentage of African nations in the United Nations.  For the group whose wheel stopped at 10, the average answer was 25%.  For the group whose wheel stopped at 65. the average answer as 45%.  (Thinking Fast and Slow at 119.)  The wheel’s number was the anchor; the anchor influenced the guess.  Real world implication?    “If you consider how much you should pay for a house, you will be influenced by the asking price.”  Id. at 122.

When a company proposes a $75 million rate increase, that number becomes the anchor.  Then when the Commission allows an increase of $40 million, its press release says, “We saved customers $35 million.”  The anchor influenced the case, the outcome, and the explanation.  The anchored question was:  “Has the company justified a $75 million increase?”  The right question is:  “What should it cost to supply this service territory?”

To avoid anchoring—to get the estimate right—one first must detect the anchor, then reduce its influence.  Both steps require a clear head:  “People adjust less (stay closer to the anchor) when their mental resources are depleted, either because their memory is loaded with digits or because they are slightly drunk.”  Thinking Fast and Slow at 121-122.

Halo effect:  You work for a charitable organization.  At a party you meet John, whom you find very amicable. You like John, so you put him on your list of possible donors.  But amicability does not equal generosity.  You’ve experienced the halo effect, because you associated amicability with generosity—without a speck of data to support the association.  You viewed the relationship between amicability and generosity as “simpler and more coherent than the real thing.”  Thinking Fast and Slow at 82.

Electricity is awesome, literally:  Flip a switch, 500 miles away a puff of smoke appears, your light goes on.  Also awesome is utility financing.  Tasked with financing new generation and transmission, the CFO somehow coaxes $2 billion from diverse lenders and shareholders.  Does our awe of technology and finance, our respect for the CEO’s engineering expertise, cause us to think well of a utility’s rate case request?  Anyone who dismisses this tendency is likely underestimating the halo effect.  “The sequence in which we observe characteristics of a person … matters … because the halo effect increases the weight of first impressions, sometimes to the point that subsequent information is mostly wasted.”  Id.  Rather than deny the halo effect, we should acknowledge it—then mitigate it.  We can mitigate it by seeking independent sources of information; and, as in good police procedure, prevent these sources from coordinating their testimony.  Id.

Narrow framing:    A major media holding company owned 23 publications, each run by a separate executive.  In a joint meeting, Thaler asked each one:  If you had a chance to make an investment, one which had a 50% chance of making a profit of $2 million and 50% chance of losing $1 million, would you do it?  Twenty of the 23 said no:  As one executive explained, success would get him “a pat on the back and a bonus equal to three months income,” while failure could get him fired.  The holding company CEO saw it differently:  If all 23 made the investments, there would be, based on the probabilities, a total gain of $11.5 million.  The problem was narrow framing:  The holding company’s compensation practices caused each executive to focus only on her situation rather than the total company situation.  See Misbehaving at 188.

Are there situations in utility regulation—on the seller or the buyer side—where each individual action (or inaction) makes sense to the actor, but the combination of actions or actions does not?  If so, we suffer from narrow framing.  Narrow framing also occurs when we base a decision only on the arguments and evidence presented by opposing parties, rather than asking “What would I need to know before I formed an opinion about [this particular issue]?”,  Thinking Fast and Slow at 86, and then acquiring all that necessary information.

*  *  *

Economists initially objected to these discoveries, arguing that rational people cannot be irrational.  Tversky responded succinctly:  “A theory of vision cannot be faulted for predicting optical illusions.  Similarly, a descriptive theory of choice cannot be rejected on the grounds that it predicts ‘irrational behavior’ if the behavior in question is, in fact, observed.”  The Undoing Project at 286.  Thaler got on his colleagues’ nerves, because he used facts and logic to expose looseness in conventional assumptions.  A critic of his profession, he is making it better.

I invite readers to send me examples of how inadvertent biases—as defined here—affect regulatory decision-making.  Like Thaler and his colleagues, together we can advance our knowledge and improve our profession.

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  1. 27. Abu Dhabi to Invest in NIIF’s Master Fund ______________________________________ National Investment and Infrastructure Fund (NIIF) of India on Monday said it had signed an investment agreement worth $1 billion with a wholly owned unit of the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority (ADIA).

As part of the partnership agreement, ADIA will become the first institutional investor in NIIF’s Master Fund and a shareholder in National Investment and Infrastructure Ltd, NIIF’s investment management company, NIIF said in a press statement.

“This agreement marks the culmination of an extensive process of collaboration with ADIA to develop an investment structure that is attractive to international investors, while remaining closely aligned with NIIF’s objectives,” said NIIF chief executive officer Sujoy Bose.

NIIF was set up in 2015 as an investment vehicle for funding commercially viable greenfield, brownfield and stalled projects in the infrastructure sector.

NIIF will invest in areas such as energy, transportation, housing, water, waste management and other infrastructure-related sectors in India.

The corpus of the fund is proposed to be around Rs40,000 crore, with the government investing 49% and the rest to be raised from third-party investors such as sovereign wealth funds, insurance and pension funds, endowments etc.

“NIIF is set to play an important role in facilitating the flow of foreign capital into India’s infrastructure sector. As a long-standing investor in India and in infrastructure globally, ADIA welcomes the opportunity to be the first to partner with NIIF in a platform that is sure to be of interest to other long-term institutional investors,” said Khadem AlRemeithi, executive director of the real estate and infrastructure department at ADIA.

ADIA has been an active investor in the Indian infrastructure space. In October 2015, ADIA led a $265 million investment in Sumant Sinha’s renewable energy company ReNew Power Ventures along with existing investors.

In July, The Economic Times had reported that ADIA was in talks to acquire a 49% stake in infrastructure firm GMR Infrastructure’s Hyderabad airport.

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  1. Start-Up Sangam Initiative___ Shri Dharmendra Pradhan launches Start-up Programmes for entrepreneurs in Oil and Gas sector 

Minister of Petroleum and Natural Gas, Skill Development and Entrepreneurship Shri Dharmendra Pradhan has said that it is important to develop new business models, marketing plans, technology and innovations in the sector. For the same, the oil and gas PSUs have setup venture capital funds to encourage start-ups based on innovative ideas in the energy sector.  Speaking at the launch function of Start-up programme for entrepreneurs in oil and gas sector here today, he said the initiative will change the status of the youth of our country from job seeker to that of job provider as envisaged by Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi. Shri Pradhan said the business partnership between the start-ups and the PSUs of Petroleum Ministry will create a new benchmark for growth and job creation as India has a huge potential for investment of over USD 300 bn in the energy sector in the next ten years.

 

He said, start-ups in the oil and gas sector are not short-term investments, but a long-term commitment. There are a wide variety of opportunities that present a wide spectrum of options for launching start-up initiatives. The Minister said the government is committed to provide clean energy to every household of the country and in the last 15 months 3 crore LPG connections have been provided under the Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana (PMUY). He said in the next 15 months, a target of providing more than 4 crore electricity connections has been set under the Saubhagya Scheme. He called upon the oil PSUs to take advantage of the emerging technologies in the oil sector with the help of the youth to match the international standards.

 

CEO, Niti Ayog, Shri Amitabh Kant, Secretary DIPP Shri Ramesh Abhishek, Secretary, PNG Shri K. D Tripathi, Academicians, Chiefs of Oil and Gas PSUs and young entrepreneur were also present on the occasion.

 

Backing the spirit of innovation, 10 public sector undertakings under the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas, including the IOCL, ONGC, EIL, OIL, NRL, BPCL, HPCL, GAIL and MRPL, have created a corpus of Rs. 320 crore to support start-up initiatives.

 

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