1. Social audits alone will not bring transparency
-When it comes to governance innovations, India’s northeast is not known to be a market leader; in fact, the region is more often in news for the opposite: governance deficit. Recently, however, Meghalaya did something extraordinary that is worth emulating by other states: It became the first state in the country to operationalise a law, The Meghalaya Community Participation and Public Services Social Audit Act, 2017, which makes social audit of State-run schemes mandatory. What makes the state a trailblazer is this: Unlike other states that have implemented the provisions of social audit only in certain schemes such as the government’s flagship rural job guarantee scheme, the Northeastern state has come up with a comprehensive law that covers almost all development projects.
-Social audits are different from government audits such as the ones conducted by the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG). In Battling Corruption: Has NREGA Reached India’s Rural Poor? authors Shylashri Shankar and Raghav Gaiha explain the difference between different types of audits: “Unlike government audits [conducted solely by government auditors and confined to compliance of expenditures in specified amounts under specified heads without involvement of affected people] and people’s audit [the community examines outcomes but their findings lack mandatory acceptance by the government], a social audit is conducted jointly by the government and the beneficiaries of the scheme being audited”.
-While social audits were pioneered by the Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan in Rajasthan in the mid-1990s, they were first made statutory in the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, 2005, and later in other laws such as the National Food Security Act, 2013, and the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Bill, 2016.
-Social audits are increasingly becoming critical these days because the accountability and transparency mechanism of India’s local government structure has not kept pace with the increasing responsibilities and flow of funds that are delegated to local governments.
-But such audits can improve transparency in governance and give people the confidence to question elected representatives and bureaucrats on a regular basis – and not just before they go to vote for them. It also helps to develop a cadre of social auditors at the panchayat level who will have deeper understanding of government accounts and policy-making processes. For example, in Andhra Pradesh, thanks to social audits of the MGNREGA over the past nine years, the government has recovered ₹50 crore.
-Despite its usefulness, the process suffers from certain weaknesses. One, in certain states the auditing process is not sufficiently independent (there have been examples of former policy implementing officers being asked to do social audits of the same programme they were heading); funds are not earmarked for such audits (now the Centre is giving funds directly for MGNREGA social audits); third, there is no follow-up of the cases to haul up those responsible for corruption. Then there are established hierarchies of power structure in villages, which reproduces itself in social audits and muffles criticism by poor stakeholders in any project. There is also evidence of programme staff sneaking into a public hearings on projects, a critical part of social audits, to tear down the process.
-Along with fixing these inadequacies, the back-end systems of the governance structure have to be improved if social audits have to meet their goal of transparency and accountability. States have to invest in e-governance; fill vacancies so that there are adequate number of officers to respond to grievances and follow up on cases of corruption; and do a thorough assessment of service delivery system.
-Experts such as Abey George of the Tata Institute of Social Sciences say that to strengthen the social auditing process, which is now administratively under states, it’s important to bring it under CAG. In India, evidence-based policy making is becoming popular so that the impact of State-run programmes on the ground is better. Social audits can only bolster this process by keeping an eye on implementation so that the State as well as the taxpayers get better bang for their buck. (Source: The Hindustan Times)*************************************
2. Effective policing has reduced cases of drink driving in Mumbai
-A decade ago, the Mumbai Police launched a mission to curb drink driving on the city’s streets. It was a late realisation considering two big cases – one allegedly involving actor Salman Khan, who was later acquitted, and the other involving 21-year-old Alistair Pareira, for which he was convicted – had claimed eight innocent lives in a high-profile, headline-grabbing manner. Compared to other big cities in India, it was still an early wake-up call. Police pickets increased on Mumbai’s arterial roads. The breathalyser became a common policeman’s implement — almost as ubiquitous as the lathi.
-The result was instantaneous. People started leaving cars and bikes at home and taking cabs and autos even to pubs that were just around the corner. It helped that Mumbai had a robust public transport system, and the habits of drinking but not driving, or not drinking when driving, started to spread for fear of retribution. Drink driving cases in Mumbai rose from 1,022 in 2006 to 12,765 in 2007, the year the campaign started. This week, the Mumbai Police released its drink driving figures for Christmas, showing they had fallen to just 31 on a night of revelry. This is an instance of anecdotes supporting police statistics. The numbers are down not because of inaction or improper recording of transgressions; they illustrate a changing mindset. Hurtling down the road in a powerful metal box demands great responsibility. The driver has a weapon in their hands, which can destroy lives if wielded callously.
-In Delhi, there are police pickets, and some breathalysers are brandished occasionally. But anecdotal evidence suggests that despite the statistics (28,006 people were caught for drink driving in 2016), the deterrent is not strong enough and the execution not robust enough. The response of the police, unlike Mumbai, is not to take offenders in custody but to merely fine them. The police in Delhi and other cities must emulate the Mumbai Police’s efficiency on this front. And though it may hurt to hear this, given the rivalry between the two cities, perhaps Delhi can learn a thing or two from Mumbai. (Source: The Hindustan Times)———————————————————–
3. If the fiscal deficit breaches target-
-The government has announced that it would borrow an additional ₹50,000 crore. Will this increase the fiscal deficit, beyond its target of 3.2% of GDP for the current financial year? What does the government plan to do with the money? Will it go to pay for outstanding dues on revised pay for civil servants? Or will it fund extra route-km of national highways or higher support prices for farm produce? These questions should have been rendered superfluous. The government should have come out with credible communication on all these and other matters, while announcing the additional borrowing.
–Overshooting a fiscal deficit target might or might not be a sin, depending on how much of non-government savings are available for the government to tap without creating excess demand and the intended purpose of the extra borrowing. The point is to make things clear without allowing uncertainty to build up in the market. If T-Bills are replaced with dated securities, that is, very short-term debt is replaced with longer-term debt, it might appear that there is no net addition to borrowing and so the fiscal deficit would not be impacted. However, since T-Bills are to be settled within the year, they are not counted while toting up the fiscal deficit. So, other things remaining the same, the fiscal deficit would go up — of course, there would be a minor saving on the interest outgo on the replaced T-Bills, as interest on dated securities would be paid only in the next fiscal. But other things need not remain the same. Tax collections could go up, if income-tax officials diligently follow the goods and services tax audit trail, small savings collections could be lower, disinvestment proceeds could be higher, the government could ask for special dividends from public enterprises without a clue as to how to invest their huge surpluses. The government is unlikely to curtail expenditure, however.
-What is needed is clarity on the fiscal stance and its clear communication. Chicken Little would have little to fear, even if the fiscal deficit does exceed the target by a couple of decimal points. (Source: The Economic Times)—–
4. Supreme Court’s timeline to ensure full access for the disabled to public facilities is welcome
-The Supreme Court has struck a blow for the rights of the disabled with a direction to the Central and State governments to provide full access to public facilities, such as buildings and transport, within stipulated deadlines. People with a disability form 2.21% of India’s population according to the 2011 Census. They have had a law for two decades to enable their full participation in society, but successive governments have done little to realise those guarantees.
-Now, in response to a public interest petition filed by a visually handicapped activist, the court has issued a series of orders: that all government buildings should be made accessible by June 2019; half of all government buildings in the capital cities should meet accessibility norms by December this year; the Railways should present a report in three months from December 15 on implementing station facilities; 10% of government public transport must be fully accessible by March 2018; and advisory boards should be formed by the States and Union Territories in three months.
-The court’s directions should be welcomed by the government and service providers as an opportunity to steer policy and practice towards a universal and humane system. For too long, planners and designers have built infrastructure for use only by able-bodied individuals, ignoring the aspirations of those with disabilities, and the letter of the law.
-A transformation requires governments to also harness the power of newer technologies. Geolocation is one, and it enables targeted provision of services. It is eminently feasible, for instance, to aggregate the travel requirements of disabled people with the help of information technology and smartphones, and provide affordable shared transport using accessible vehicles.
-Given the emphasis on smart cities and upgraded urban facilities, such schemes should be given the highest priority and start-up ideas roped in. Railway stations and access to train carriages continue to pose hurdles for not just the disabled, but even elderly travellers. The Railways should embark on an urgent programme to retrofit all stations, and try simple solutions such as portable step ladders to help board and exit trains, since level boarding is not possible in most places.
-Cost is not the barrier to improving facilities; what is in short supply is the political will to change the design of public facilities and stick to professional codes. The Supreme Court said in a 1998 order on a petition seeking air travel concession, that while cost was a consideration, the true spirit and purpose of the law could not be ignored. Today India, which is richer than it was then, and has passed a new law in 2016 to strengthen the rights of the disabled, should demonstrate the will to implement it. (Source: The Hindu)
5. Resumption of dialogue between the two Koreas reignites hopes of a détente
-The prospect of a thaw in relations between North and South Korea, which resume talks after two years, holds out the hope of denuclearisation on the Peninsula. Lending the move diplomatic heft is the U.S.’s consent to South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s proposal to delay the controversial joint military exercises between the two allies. These annual operations have traditionally caused consternation in Pyongyang. The significance of the U.S. decision can also be seen in the context of Beijing’s suggestion for a freeze on joint military exercises between Washington and Seoul in exchange for a halt to Pyongyang’s nuclear programme. The demand acquired added impetus ever since Seoul launched the U.S.-backed Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (THAAD) system, raising fears that its radars could snoop on Chinese security infrastructure. But the idea never received serious consideration from the U.S., as forcing Kim Jong-un, the North Korean autocrat, to completely give up the programme was the singular focus of President Donald Trump’s approach. As for Mr. Kim, he sees recognition of his country as a nuclear power as a vantage point from where he could negotiate a roll-back of crippling international sanctions and a possible reconciliation with Washington.
-The immediate trigger to the revival of dialogue is the Winter Olympics in PyeongChang in South Korea next month. North Korea’s latest ballistic missile launches and nuclear explosions have raised global alarm over the region’s safety for travel and tourism, not to mention security during the Games. Memories of the downing by North Korea of a civilian aircraft ahead of the 1988 Seoul Olympics have prompted understandable caution by the host nation. Seoul has apparently determined that the most effective means of allaying those apprehensions is to confirm the participation of North Korean athletes. The deferment of the joint military exercises with the U.S. lends further credibility to Mr. Moon’s overtures to the North, as much as it assuages Chinese concerns. Beijing had imposed an unofficial blockade on South Korean trade, tourism and entertainment following the THAAD missile installation last year. But it was quick to appreciate the needless economic and diplomatic cost of that approach, even if it did not alter its stance on the missile programme. Cumulatively, these developments should boost public patronage in the entire region for the Winter Olympics. Mr. Moon, a former human rights lawyer, has been a staunch advocate of a negotiated resolution of the North Korean nuclear stand-off. A votary of reunification on the Peninsula, he may be expected to seize the momentum generated by these events to foster cooperation with the North. There will no doubt be many obstacles on that ambitious path. But a détente between neighbours is a possibility few leaders can ignore. (Source: The Hindu)
6. ‘The right to sexual privacy’ makes the law on adultery open to constitutional scrutiny
–Joseph Shine v. Union of India, the petition challenging the constitutional validity of the criminal prohibition on adultery under Section 497 of the Indian Penal Code, has now been referred to the Constitution Bench by the Supreme Court. The petition was admitted by the court with the preliminary observation that the provision attacks the independent identity of the woman and is archaic in its nature.
-As widely argued, on the intuitive grounds of both directly discriminating against men and indirectly discriminating against women, there are overwhelming reasons why the apex court should strike down this provision. However, there is much less discussion on another significant aspect of adultery law: the right to sexual privacy.
-Generally speaking, in a marital bond based on love and trust, it is true that the spouse will have a necessary grievance against the adulterous partner. It is in view of this breach of fidelity that the civil laws in the country provide for adultery as a ground for divorce. It is important to clarify that the adultery laws having consequences such as divorce might well be in the legitimate state interest. It does seem quite unfair to compel an individual to remain with an unfaithful partner.
-The problem, however, is with the fact that adultery is made a penal offence. Adultery covers sexual intercourse between consenting adults. What is under challenge is a punitive provision that existed since 1860, which crystallised Victorian notions of sexuality. To prescribe a criminal penalty for a voluntary sexual activity is strikingly disproportionate.
State’s flawed approach: The right to privacy is valued and cherished for it involves the most intimate decisions and choices. The individual is absolutely autonomous in her territory. She is free to err, resolve and experiment. She is informed and independent to make her own decisions. Privacy is freedom giving as well as empowering in this sense.
-The right to engage in sexual intercourse is an intrinsic part of the right to privacy. Privacy has to invariably contain the right to bodily integrity, self-determination and sexual autonomy. By criminalisingadultery, the state is in fact showing a paternalistic attitude by telling individuals how to lead their lives and what behaviour to adopt. It carries moralistic undertones of imposing what living an ideal life means for the state. Such an approach seriously undermines the underlying values of personal liberty.
-In fact, in the celebrated privacy judgment in K.S. Puttaswamy (2017), exercising the police power of the state in matters of private choices was repelled by the apex court. Justice J. Chelameswar in clear terms held, “I do not think that anybody would like to be told by the state as to what they should eat or how they should dress or whom they should be associated with either in their personal, social or political life.” Likewise, it seems to follow that individuals must be free from the interference of the state in matters of their sexual choices, or even in choosing their sexual partner.
Foreign jurisprudence: It is pertinent to note that none of the European countries has criminalised adultery. In most of South America, adultery is no longer a crime. Many States in the U.S. have either repealed adultery laws or put them to disuse. Following this global trend, in 2012, a working group of the United Nations called upon countries to do away with laws penalising adultery.
-The right to sexual privacy is increasingly recognised in jurisprudence around the world. In the U.S in particular, the courts have enthusiastically located a constitutional right to sexual privacy. In Griswold v. Connecticut (1965), the U.S. Supreme Court was cautious to highlight the importance of privacy in the peculiar sphere of marital bedrooms in the context of birth control. In Lawrence v. Texas (2003), when confronted with the question of the legality of certain sexual conduct between persons of the same sex, the court held that no “majoritarian sexual morality” could override legitimate privacy interests.
-On the other hand, the approach of the Supreme Court of India towards the right to sexual privacy has been, at best, ambivalent. The judgment in Suresh Kumar Koushal (2013) upholding the criminalisation of voluntary sexual intercourse between those of the same sex remains a serious blow to the right to sexual freedom. However, subsequently, in NALSA v. Union of India (2014), the Court said that the value of privacy is fundamental to those of the transgender community.
-The present challenge to the law on adultery is significant for various reasons. One of them certainly is that it is perhaps the first occasion where the privacy judgment in Puttaswamy is going to be doctrinally and forensically tested. It is also equally crucial that the right to sexual privacy forms a distinct and independent ground which makes the law on adultery further vulnerable to constitutional scrutiny. (Source: The Hindu)—————–
7. The new electoral bonds will curb money-laundering through political funding, but transparency to the voter is still lacking
-Ever since the Modi government announced the launch of electoral bonds in a bid to cleanse the system of political funding and enhance transparency in its 2017 Budget, there has been much speculation about how the new instrument would achieve these objectives. The uncertainty is now at an end with the finance ministry specifying the features of these bonds. The features suggest that while electoral bonds may indeed do a lot to curb the rampant funnelling of unaccounted money into Indian politics, this may be achieved at the cost of lower transparency to the voter.
-There’s no doubt that, from the taxman’s perspective, electoral bonds present a leak-proof alternative to anonymous cash donations that used to dominate political funding (cash donations beyond ₹2,000 were barred in the 2017 Budget). Electoral bonds will be available only from one bank (SBI) and buyers will have to meet KYC requirements, ensuring that political parties cannot accept unaccounted money through this route. They can be used only to donate to registered political parties, thus curbing the flotation of bogus parties with the sole purpose of laundering wealth. Their structuring as interest-free bonds with a limited shelf life of 15 days will also ensure that they aren’t used as an anonymous currency alternative to store wealth. While these features may be essential to curb money-laundering through electoral bonds, restricting such donations only to parties that won 1 per cent of the votes in the preceding election appears superfluous, and may pose a formidable entry barrier to new contenders in the political arena. However, an even bigger concern, and one that has been voiced by many pro-democracy activists, is the opacity they encourage in big-ticket electoral funding by protecting the anonymity of the donor. Under earlier tax laws, political parties were required to compulsorily disclose to the Election Commission the identity, PAN and other details of all donors who contributed over ₹20,000 to their coffers. Finance Bill 2017, while restricting cash donations, specifically exempted electoral bonds from this requirement. Inexplicably, it also did away with the statutory limit on corporate donations to parties (7.5 per cent of three years’ net profits) and waived the need to disclose the identity of the receiving party.
-All this gives rise to legitimate concerns that electoral bonds, while cleaning up funding, will end up strengthening the corporate-political nexus. Large corporate donors seeking to curry favour may find the anonymous electoral bonds a convenient conduit to lobby with political parties without voters being any the wiser. The Centre’s counter is that the anonymity will help small-ticket donors actively contribute, without fear of a witch-hunt by the ruling regime. While that may be true, the Centre can still strike a balance by requiring political parties to disclose the identities of their large donors (corporate or otherwise) through the electoral bond route, beyond a certain threshold. Only this can make the sources of election funding truly transparent. (Source: The Hindu Businessline)
8. Taxing cryptocurrencies in India
-With the income tax department slapping tax notices on almost five lakh high net worth individuals transacting in bitcoin, the issue of taxing cryptocurrencies has assumed more importance and urgency in India.
-The Centre is reportedly planning to bring in a regulatory framework for crypto currencies in the forthcoming Union Budget. This should clear the air on the status of such digital currencies and how they will be taxed. Meanwhile, here is a look at how transactions in cryptocurrencies, mainly bitcoin, may be taxed under various scenarios.
Currency or capital asset: Currency, according to the Foreign Exchange Management (FEMA) Act, 1999, includes currency notes, postal notes, postal orders, money orders, cheques, drafts, travellerscheques, letters of credit, bills of exchange and promissory notes, credit cards and other such instruments, as notified by the RBI.
As various entities accept bitcoin as a mode of payment, it appears that it is a currency. But it has not been termed as a currency under the FEMA Act, or as legal tender by the RBI; so, it may not qualify as currency. Whether bitcoin is a currency will remain a matter of dispute until the RBI clears its stand on it. If the RBI declares it to be a currency, any trading in it will be subject to FEMA regulations.
Capital gain or business income: According to Section 2 (14) of the Income Tax Act, 1961, a capital asset means a property of any kind held by a person, whether or not connected with his business or profession. The term ‘property’ has no statutory meaning, yet it signifies every possible interest that a person can acquire, hold or enjoy.
So, bitcoins could be deemed a capital asset if they are purchased for investment. Any gain arising on transfer of a bitcoin shall be taxable as capital gain. However, if the transactions in bitcoins are substantial and frequent, it could be held that the taxpayer is trading in bitcoins, and the income would be taxable as business income.
Computing capital gains from sale of bitcoins: If gains arising from transfer of bitcoins are treated as capital gains, their further classification into short-term or long-term gain will depend on the period of holding of bitcoins. If a bitcoin is held for more than 36 months, it will be considered a long-term capital asset. If the period of holding is lower, it will be treated as a short-term capital asset.
Short-term capital gains are taxable according to the slab rates applicable to the taxpayer. Long-term capital gains are taxed at a flat rate of 20 per cent with indexation benefits (inflation-adjusted).
Taxation of bitcoins earned through mining: If profits earned from bitcoins are taxable as business income, then the bitcoins earned in the ‘mining’ process would also be taxable as business profits.
-However, if bitcoins are classified as capital assets, the virtual currency earned from bitcoin mining may not be taxed.
-Bitcoins generated during the mining process are classifiable as self-generated capital assets. Since the cost of acquisition of such bitcoins is not available, the taxpayer can take the benefit of judgement of the Supreme Court in the case of B. C. SrinivasaSetty (1981).
-The court held that if the cost of acquisition of an asset cannot be ascertained, the machinery provision for computation of capital gains will fail. Therefore, no capital gains can be levied on transfer of such assets. This could mean bitcoins generated through mining may be exempt from tax.
Situs (location) of bitcoins for taxation: Bitcoins are intangible assets. For income tax purposes, situs of an intangible asset can vary according to its nature and obligations attached to it. Situs of an intangible property is decided on the basis of the law of the land where protection for the property is sought.
-Situs of an intangible asset can be linked with such tangible property with which it is most closely connected. For example, a patent is associated with plant and machinery, and a trademark or brand name is associated with goods. Thus, the situs of bitcoin can be linked with the country where its operating server is located.
Taxation of bitcoin sale by NRI: Suppose an NRI sells bitcoins on an Indian exchange. Would he be liable for taxation in India? Since bitcoin is an intangible asset, income accruing or arising from its transfer outside India by a person who is not a resident in India cannot be taxed in India. Hence, sale of bitcoin by an NRI through an Indian bitcoin exchange may not be taxed in India.
Is it goods or service? If bitcoin gets classified as a currency, it will be considered as ‘money’ in the CGST Act and no GST can be charged on its trading. However, exchanging bitcoin to rupees might be considered a service for the purpose of levy of GST under the category of ‘financial services’.
-Here, if the supplier charges any commission for providing exchange services, then GST shall be payable at 18 per cent on the commission. If no consideration is being charged for the services, the supplier shall be liable to pay GST at 18 per cent on 1 per cent of the gross amount of rupees paid by the recipient.
-There is a conflicting view also. If bitcoin is not considered as currency, any trading in bitcoin would be considered a service. Therefore, the supplier (who is selling the bitcoin) may be required to pay 18 per cent GST on the total value charged by him from the buyer.
Taxability of bitcoin mining under GST: In the bitcoin mining process, individuals process the transactions and secure the network by using specialised hardware. In exchange, they are awarded new bitcoins. In other words, the bitcoin is a consideration awarded to individuals in lieu of their services to secure the network. Therefore, bitcoin miners may be required to pay GST on the fair market value of the bitcoin at 18 per cent.
-Is bitcoin trading a current account transaction under the FEMA? Current account transactions include all those transactions that are not capital in nature. This includes remittance for import of goods or services, or remittance for personal purposes, etc. The question whether dealing in bitcoin is a current account transaction or not depends wholly on whether bitcoin is a ‘good’ or an ‘asset’.
If it is not a good, foreign transactions in bitcoin shall be treated as capital account transactions and any dealing in bitcoin would require prior approval from the RBI. (Source: The Hindu Businessline)-——————-
9. A website lifeline for abandoned and abused NRI spouses
The government is stepping in to provide relief to women abandoned by non-resident Indian (NRI) husbands. The ministry for women and child development is contemplating setting up a website on which registrars from states will upload details related to marriages between Indian women and NRI men.
-On December 21, external affairs minister VK Singh told Parliament that Indian missions abroad had received 3,328 complaints from women about marital disputes with their NRI spouses since 2015. In 2009, former NCW chairperson, Girija Vyas, had remarked that “out of 10 NRI marriages, two resulted in the wife being abandoned after honeymoon”. The picture doesn’t appear to have improved over the past few years.
-Providing a single point of redress with a website that has data related to marriages of NRIs with Indian nationals could help the government tackle complaints with greater urgency.
-The site is likely to include advice on how to proceed with a case, approaching the Indian missions overseas and seeking assistance of empanelled lawyers and NGOs. At present, the measures include providing legal and financial aid ($3,000 in developed countries and $2,000 in developing ones) for women who are abandoned or face divorce proceedings within 15 years.
–Committee recommendations: In September, a high-powered panel had recommended that husbands who harass or desert their wives face cancellation of their passports. Among the other suggestions was the creation of a nodal national mechanism involving the MEA, the home ministry and the National Commission of Women to deal with desertion by NRI husbands; and the inclusion of details such as the social security number and the address of the NRI spouse in the marriage registration certificate. The State’s intervention may prove to be a good support mechanism for women who have been wronged. Stringent measures may act like deterrents for those who think of abandoning or abusing their wives. (Source: The Hindustan times)————————————-
10. US Pressure is mounting on Islamabad to deliver on its promises to act against terrorists
-It is improbable we will ever learn exactly what was on President Donald Trump’s mind when, at 4 am on New Year’s Day, he lamented that the United States had “foolishly given Pakistan more than 33 billion dollars in aid over the last 15 years, and they have given us nothing but lies and deceit”.
-For all the furore that has followed, though, the precise details of what he intends to do to address the problem remains unclear. United States officials have said they do not intend to hand over the $255 million in military aid that was scheduled to be given in 2016. That funding, however, was placed in escrow six months ago — so its suspension is not breaking news. Perhaps more importantly, the $255 million amounts to only about 20 per cent of the $1.87 billion Pakistan is expected to spend on new military acquisitions and modernisation — not insubstantial but not enough to make Islamabad scream in pain. Put simply, President Trump’s tweet tells us that he is upset and angry with Pakistan — something that he has announced repeatedly since taking office — but there is still little clarity on how to turn those sentiments into policy.
-This much, though, is clear: Pressure is mounting on Islamabad to deliver on its obligations to act against terrorists operating from its soil. In February, the State Bank of Pakistan, the equivalent of that country’s Reserve Bank, is scheduled to report to the multi-national Financial Action Task Force (FATF) on what actions it is taking against the financing of groups like the Jama’at-ud-Dawa and Taliban. Less than two months remain, but the SBP has managed to take little concrete action. With an irate United States in play at the FATF, Pakistan could find itself in trouble with the global banking system. Add to that the risk that the United States may stonewall Pakistan’s future appeals for International Monetary Fund aid, and Islamabad has real reason for concern.
-For years now, some experts have feared that such pressures could push Pakistan further into China’s orbit — turning it, in effect, into another North Korea. That fear has allowed Islamabad to continue sponsoring jihadist groups in India and Afghanistan with impunity. Yet, President Trump’s advisors have weighed the options and seem to have taken the decision to ratchet up the pain. That may prove a sound call. China has shown little willingness to underwrite Pakistan’s economy in the way the United States did for decades. Instead of aid, Beijing provides loans — on terms many experts consider unfair, even usurious. In spite of its relationship with Beijing, Pakistan’s military still looks west for cutting edge military technology. But this is uncharted terrain, with unforeseeable consequences: Reason to watch how this play unfolds with the greatest care. (Source: The Indian express)———————–
11. Assam citizenship issue: Government must realise that modern nations are made of many migrations
-That 1.29 crore out of a total of 3.29 crore applicants did not find their names in the first draft of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) for Assam points to the enormity of the challenge the state is facing in identifying illegal migrants. A massive bureaucratic exercise has been on in Assam since the Supreme Court ordered that the NRC, which the state government had prepared along with the national census in 1951, be updated and set December 31, 2017 as the deadline.
-The NRC is meant to decide who is a bona fide Indian citizen and those who fail to enlist in the register will be deemed illegal migrants. The political consensus in the state is that the NRC is the best mechanism to separate the citizen from the illegal migrant. However, the large number of omissions in the register indicate that producing necessary papers and proving one’s citizenship in a country with an indifferent record of maintaining documents is not an easy task. The NRC draft, of course, will be revised through 2018, but it is anybody’s guess if the final document will satisfy everyone.
–Issues of migration and demographic change have been central to Assam’s politics since the 1950s. The Assam agitation in the late 1970s was focussed on the citizenship question and called for the detection, deletion and deportation of illegal migrants. The Assam Accord of 1985 promised measures to address these concerns and the NRC updation is one of the outcomes. If the Assam agitation pitched the Assamese against the non-Assamese, the present state government has introduced an overt religious dimension in the debate by distinguishing between the Hindu and Muslim migrant: In this narrative, the Hindu from East Pakistan/ Bangladesh is deemed a refugee and hence, qualified for citizenship, while his Muslim compatriot will be considered an infiltrator.
-Assam’s demographic changes date back to the 19th century and have economic, ethnic, cultural and religious dimensions. Partition and the hardening of national identities since have complicated the citizenship question. It may now be unrealistic to insist on hard borders and narrow identities and push for large transfers of populations. The ramifications of such a politics will not be limited to Assam. The state can, of course, use its many instruments to discriminate against “non-citizens”, but such an approach could create new faultlines and trigger social unrest. A fresh political imagination which recognises that modern nations are a product of migrations and cultural diffusion is necessary to address the citizenship issue in a mature and reasonable way. The NRC must be handled with care. (Source: Indian Express)–
12. Fake news, privacy, a fundamental contradiction
-In 2017, the way many people perceive social media and the larger discourse around it, took a decidedly negative turn. From being the Prometheus — the character from Greek mythology who stole fire from the gods and gave it to man — who connected us to each other like never before, the online networks metamorphosed into Pandora’s Box, now open and facilitating everything from the “rigging” of overseas elections to the amplification of abuse and misogyny. As 2017 ended, Facebook found itself under fire, and the ways in which the giants of social media handle these issues will determine the ways in which the world consumes and processes information in 2018.
Tackling ‘fake news’: Facebook and Twitter were accused in 2017 of allowing their platforms to be used to “influence” the outcome of the 2016 US presidential elections. Russia-based users bought ads and promoted “fake news” posts, often paying for them in roubles. Given their global operations, to what extent are social media giants even capable of regulating the content they host? Multinationals in general, including tech companies, have a fiduciary responsibility towards their shareholders — their duty is to turn a profit. When dealing with data emerging from billions of sources, how reasonable is it to assume that they will act in the interest of a particular democracy? Managing the tensions of this contradiction, and the need to balance the global character of the Internet with the laws and moral standards of particular countries, will be a major task for social media in 2018.
Giving ‘what people want’: How does Facebook know what you would like to read or share? The answer, to the layman, is as mysterious as the question: the algorithm knows all. Programmers use sophisticated formulae and artificial intelligence (AI) that “read” your preferences from your online activity and suggest what “you may like”, based on what you already like. The algorithm is now seen as part of the problem in a highly polarised world: rather than looking for facts and balance — the normative hallmarks of traditional media — those consuming content online will read and watch largely what reinforces the beliefs they already hold. “Fake news” and “post-truth” are in this category, where Facebook, Twitter and Google have been allegedly manipulated to circulate false stories that have contributed to triggering several political earthquakes. Expect to see more determined attempts at damage control in 2018 — advisories on how to spot fake news, encouragement to seek out diverse sources of information, etc.
Staying away from harm: In April 2017, a Mumbai law student who was addicted to drugs streamed his death as a tutorial on “how to commit suicide”. In November, a 32-year-old telecom worker in Ludhiana did the same. Reacting to similar incidents across the world, a Facebook spokesperson said it was impossible to keep the live-streaming platform “completely free” of suicides. However, the company added over 7,000 employees last year to police content on the site, and to link those appearing to be in distress with people and institutions that were likely to be of help. It is likely that such incidents will continue in 2018; a greater emphasis on developing early identification and warning systems is equally likely.
Crowd-sourced censorship: While a case can be made for basic censorship — gratuitous sex and violence, advocating strife, etc. — on social media, the fact is the absence of gateways and barriers to entry is what lies at its very heart. The all-knowing Facebook algorithm flags “inappropriate” content, and users can complain against anything they feel is against the site’s “community standards”. But the inadequacies of this system became clear in 2017 as pictures of women breastfeeding their children were taken down, while racist comments, violent videos and threats remained online. A fundamental question for 2018 will be whether social media platforms should remain agnostic, or intervene in certain negative behaviours.
The privacy question: Doomsday theories have articulated apprehensions of not just an overarching state prying into individuals’ lives, but also of private tech companies (mis)using users’ information for profits. In 2017, multiple reports focussed on the “shadow profiles” that Facebook keeps of each of its users — a digital dossier built from information that users provide, and from the people they have interacted with online, so that the social media behemoth is able to better map them. A question for 2018 will be whether to leave user privacy and security in the hands of companies who are in the business of selling data.
-The problems of social media ironically emerge from precisely the feature that makes it so appealing — unlike old media, there are no editors to decide what users should consume. Any attempt at regulation could, therefore, stifle the creativity, democracy, and profitability that the Internet provides. Efforts to reconcile these competing concerns will continue through 2018. (Source: The Indian express)—————————-
(Compiled by GS TIMES.IN)